A biting social novel about a recently suspended high school English teacher who is named a person of interest in the police investigation of a mass shooting at her school, and the chaos and irrationality that follows the tragedy.
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.