There’s an echo of Emma Donoghue’s Room in this story. Pearl speaks in a raw voice that can sound awkward one moment and precocious the next — a wholly believable consciousness for a child raised in such strange, constrained circumstances ... Full of sorrow and aching sweetness, Gun Love provides a glimpse of people who dwell every day knee deep in the toxic waste of our gun culture. They may be America’s forgotten children, but after reading this novel, you are not likely to forget them.
Through a memorable coming-of-age story set in America’s margins, Clement makes all of these things true at once: A gun is a valentine, a secret-bearer, a penitent, a world destroyer, an exposed belly, an insurance policy, a sudden act of God ... It might be tempting to read this novel merely as an exemplar of the neo-Southern grotesque — a lush, humid tale of rural hard-lucks made all the more strange by the incongruous beauty of Clement’s lyric prose — but Gun Love is neither swampy freak show nor poverty porn. Rather it’s a fable of modern American violence, and the resilience it takes to survive a childhood in its shadow.
Clement is a brilliant stylist; her figurative language is far more than fine; her metaphors and similes are superb; and together they create a haunting atmosphere—sometimes fey, occasionally whimsical, no stranger to tragedy but always heartfelt and spot-on, as are her beautifully realized, captivating characters. Though sui generis, her work may remind some readers of Flannery O’Connor’s. Always evocative, it is an unforgettable knockout not to be missed.
Chekhov’s dramatic principle about guns – that if you have one hanging on the wall in the first act, it needs to go off at some point – is followed to the letter in Jennifer Clement’s superb new novel. There are a great number of guns in this book, all of which are described with clinical efficiency, and whenever they are fired, something bad happens. Yet there’s also a great deal of love here; amid the violence and hopelessness of gun-crazed contemporary America, humanity breaks through ... Clement’s spare, often oblique style makes this book feel like a great lost murder ballad by the likes of Johnny Cash or Nick Cave ... readers will feel conflicted by their own response to the horrors and wonders that they have encountered.
Clement’s turn to fiction is oddly dreamy for such a topic, as if to suggest the self-delusion of the real-life actors involved ... Once the bond between mother and daughter comes apart, Pearl is swept into the gun trade. With the 'souls of animals and the souls of people' emanating from the guns all around her, she hears a song of praise: 'Pearl, Pearl, Pearl in congratulation.' Her complicity with the violence seems eerily unconscious, mirroring America’s unnatural inability to admit to the grave consequences of unchecked gun proliferation.
Gun Love both glamorizes and interrogates a mindset that assigns commodities the importance and the characteristics of living people ... The writing is unguarded, addicted. (It is full of plainly stated but unelaborated metaphors: 'She was the broom and I was dust.' 'My mother was a cup of sugar.') ... These are old questions: how can art make itself meaningful in the face of horror? What kind of monument can a story possibly place? I was surprised when Gun Love made its own humble attempt at an answer. An older character, Corazón, stands with Pearl in a cemetery ... 'Do you miss the people you never knew?' Compelling us to miss people that we never knew: that is one task that these two novels [Gun Love and Tom McAllister’s How to Be Safe]—and all of the rhetoric multiplied by the gun violence crisis—discharge with a savage grace.
Throughout the novel, Clement maintains the intoxicating potency of the language. Gun Love is reminiscent of gushing lyrics you can imagine singing in the throes of crazy grief. Clement also deftly works in phantasmagoric touches reminiscent of books such as Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! and Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love ... We gradually lose the sense of Pearl as a human being. She becomes a stylised representation of a lost child, a vehicle for pathos. Sometimes the prose slips into the mawkishness that is the great attendant hazard of lyricism ... Despite these problems, the inventiveness and charm of Clement’s narrative voice are such that Gun Love never stops being a pleasure to read. Every paragraph is nutty and passionate and glamorous, and there’s even something winningly vulgar about the way the plot treats serious topics as a backdrop for melodrama. Even in the weakest sections of the narrative, there are moments of gritty magic. It’s a cup of sugar and a great pop ballad. That’s more than enough to make the book both readable and fun. It isn’t quite enough to make us care.
The ending is predictable. But Gun Love is lifted by its language ... Ms Clement creates a weird poetry of murderous force. Chekhov’s narrative principle—that a gun hung on the wall in the first act must eventually go off—has become a metaphorical rule of storytelling. To reflect American reality, Ms Clement puts a gun on every wall in every room.
With lyrical grace, Clement crafts the careful refrains of Pearl’s life. Clement’s language snakes and repeats throughout the novel in song and elegy, freighting the tiniest of details—conjoined alligators, a black handgun, even the tragic mythos of slain singer Selena—with meaning ... Clement’s quiet tragedy is moving, unsettling, and filled with characters who will haunt you long after the story ends.