Tom McAllister’s How to Be Safe is as startling as the crack of a bullet. The story’s volatile tone tears through the despair of our era’s devotion to guns ... Unemployed, depressed and allergic to sentimentality, Anna offers a vicious critique of her own experience in a poisonous male culture ... acid wit makes How to Be Safe particularly unnerving. Anna delivers the most caustic lines with a straight face sharp enough to cut your throat ... Like nothing else I’ve read, How to Be Safe contains within its slim length the rubbed-raw anxieties, the slips of madness, the gallows humor and the inconsolable sorrow of this national pathology that we have nursed to monstrous dimensions.
...captures the unreality and absurdity of the American mass-murder playbook, from the culling of 'persons of interest' on social media to the Orwellian political gestures ... The violence in How to Be Safe unfolds out of sight; instead, readers get descriptions of the shooter’s bedroom. They get litanies of names. It should all feel tedious and strident, except that the book’s alienated affect, flecked with sorrow and humor and rage, is so recognizable as one of the few rational responses to the status quo ... Compelling us to miss people that we never knew: that is one task that [this] novel—and all of the rhetoric multiplied by the gun violence crisis—discharge[s] with a savage grace.
Darkness suffuses How to Be Safe, Tom McAllister’s heady and unsettling exploration of America’s gun violence epidemic ... this is far more than a ripped-from-the-headlines story. McAllister delivers here a portrait of a nation vibrating with failure and humiliation ... One of the book’s greatest successes is its exploration of the overlapping forces and impulses behind our nation’s sexual-harassment and firearms crises ... On the whole, the writing sears — and reminds us of literature’s power to fill a void that no amount of inhaling the vapors of Twitter will satisfy.
Despite its searing subject matter, How to Be Safe is beautifully written ... McAllister presents a clear indictment of modern America’s sickness: a toxic mix of disappearing jobs and opioids and misogyny and isolation and violence. He’s not afraid to give voice to the issue that so many politicians step around. As he makes clear, there are solutions.
Though Anna, who readers will empathize with and root for, drinks and behaves erratically, this is no new Girl novel. As for the massacre itself, focus stays on the victims, and violence occurs mainly off the page. Combining a deep character study, prescient satire, and an unfortunately all-too-timely evisceration of U.S. gun culture, McAllister’s well-voiced and remarkably observed page-turner is in almost all ways an anti-thriller—itself a comment on the current, terrifying mundanity of similar events.
McAllister...wants to explore anger and hopelessness that underlie these outbursts, but not in the ways readers might expect ... The other relentless force wearing away at [protagonist] Crawford — indeed, at the entire world in the novel — is what can only be described as toxic masculinity ... It's heartening to see a male writer explore the issue with such nuance. McAllister deserves tremendous credit for his perceptive work here ... In the latter parts of the novel, the teacher dabbles with an extreme religious group, a militia occupies part of the town, and a 'public security' robot stands sentry on a street corner. All of this is intended as especially wicked satire. It elicited no laughter, however. By the end, the book's outlook seemed jaded and cynical. McAllister is a writer of considerable skill. But his book lands as the nation has watched the teenage Parkland survivors — earnest and hopeful — inspire thousands to organize for change. The mordant wit over in the corner at the wake — the one with the drink in his hand, cracking wise? Suddenly his jokes don't seem so funny.
...[a] brilliant, tragically timely novel ... McAllister is a brave and stylish writer, and Anna is a singular creation. At first, she seems like a classic unreliable narrator, but it quickly becomes hard to decide which is crazier: Anna or the world she’s describing ... Intensely smart. Sharply written.
McAllister’s novel unfolds both as grim social commentary and a subtle exploration of the stages of grief ... Though Anna’s voice is strong, the novel falters in its depiction of the tragedy’s fallout, often electing to skim the surface instead of going deep.