Gun Love: A Novel by Jennifer Clement

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My mother was right. In our part of Florida everything was puzzled. Life was always like shoes on the wrong foot.

Gun Love is so well written I can still taste the toxic cockroach spray in my mouth. Living in a Mercury (car) with her young mother for most of her life, Pearl hasn’t known anything different from living with next to nothing, never having a father nor any other family. She knows her mother was from somewhere wildly fancier, with her inheritance kept in the trunk, fancy china, and such. Surrounded by a strange cast of characters in a trailer park, no one is as poverty striken as Pearl and her mother, the lowest of low in the park. “People were always shaking their heads at our lives.”  Yet, there was something special about her beautiful mother, everyone loved her. When Pearl isn’t scavenging through the dump next to their home, which her mother warns her away from, with her best friend April May, she is filching cigarettes from their neighbors to feed their habit until one day as she is thieving in Pastor Rex’s trailer, she runs into a naked man, Eli. A man who may just weasel his way between she and her mother Margot.

Pearl’s mother is ‘fragile’,  Margot feels and sees all the broken and hidden hurts and bruises of the soul in others. It’s both gift and curse, allowing damaged people in, giving them a moment of comfort from the hateful loudness of the world even if it’s just in the front seat of their car. Pearl knows her mother once had everything, others know she was a lady who came from wealth, culture. But something broke in her mother, and she had to run from the terror that was her childhood home. She is too good, and such easy prey for a con man. Working as a janitor at a veterans hospital, that too goes by the wayside as her mother seems to lose herself in Eli. It terrifies her to see her mother getting swallowed up all for a taste of Eli.

Falling asleep each night to gunshots in the air, usually men hunting gators or shooting at anything that moves, it isn’t long before her mother’s lover takes up all the space in the car with his visit, and she is forced to ‘get lost’ during their trysts. Each time she feels like she is in exile while her mother opens her body to the love of a bad man and she makes friends with other’s in the park, a mexican couple in particular, Ray and Corazón. Life in her corner of Florida seems to revolve around guns, for protection, for love, for revenge, or collection and everyone has their hands on one.

When tragedy strikes, she’s a lost satellite and trying to become normal, fostered to an alien world she could never get used to. She makes more connections, even finds love, something to dream of, an anchor that maybe her ‘someday’ future can afford her, but she knows right now she has to take a chance on the person who has come to rescue her from the broken ‘system.’ Love has to wait.

As horrifying as life in a car is to the rest of us, there is something tender between Margot and Pearl, a love purer than many mother daughter relationships in palatial homes and yet we know it’s not the right place for a child. Pearl is treated like an object, an unwanted parcel later in the novel, and the sad reality to me is that in many situations this fictional account isn’t so far-fetched. Without giving anything away, guns are as much a character as people and serve as both justice and injustice.

This is a unique story. I felt much more sorry for her when she was no longer living in the car, if you can imagine that. An interesting eye on people living outside the ‘norms’ of society. An original novel!

Publication Date: March 6, 2018

Crown Publishing

Hogarth

 

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