All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Gun Love by Jennifer Clement

on January 29, 2020

Gun Love
Jennifer Clement
Hogarth Press
2018, 247p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Pearl’s mother took her away from her family just weeks after she was born, and drove off to central Florida determined to begin a new life for herself and her daughter–in the parking lot next to a trailer park. Pearl grew up in the front seat of their ’94 Mercury, while her mother lived in the back. Despite their hardships, mother and daughter both adjusted to life, making friends with the residents of the trailers and creating a deep connection to each other. All around them, Florida is populated with gun owners–those hunting alligators for sport, those who want to protect their families, and those who create a sense of danger.

Written in a gorgeous lyric all its own, Gun Love is the story of a tough but optimistic young woman growing up in contemporary America, in the midst of its harrowing love affair with firearms.

This was a bit of weird book.

At the beginning of the book, Pearl is a very young teenager – 13 or 14 and for her whole life, she’s lived in a car with her mother, parked in a trailer park. They use the bathroom at the park, they have no electricity and keep their long life food in the trunk of the car. Pearl sleeps across the front seats, her mother sleeps in the back. Her mother works as a cleaner at a hospital that mostly seems to contain injured veterans and Pearl walks to school with another girl who lives in the trailer park. Despite the unusual upbringing, Pearl seems a happy child who has never missed what she hasn’t had…but things change when a man named Eli arrives in the park and sets eyes on her mother. From then on, things between Pearl and her mother change. She can only find time for Eli now and sends Pearl away from the car when he comes to visit. Pearl finds herself wandering the trailer park alone until one of the other residents takes pity on her and offers her a place of refuge.

I actually really enjoyed the first half of the book – it felt like a really interesting, honest look at extreme poverty. Pearl’s mother was only a teenager herself when Pearl was born and she chose to leave her family, make it on her own (this perhaps had a lot to do with who Pearl’s father was, as much as it did her fear of her strict, abusive father’s reaction to his teenage daughter having a baby). She took a handful of items and the car was supposed to be temporary – just until they found something else. But it ended up being still their home over a decade later (although there’s an empty trailer in the park that Pearl finds….I’m unsure why they didn’t move into that, as no one else was using it?). Despite the undesirable situation of living inside a car, Pearl goes to school, her mother works and they have a very tight relationship where they talk and connect and even though Pearl’s mother seems a bit prone to rambling moments (I actually wasn’t sure if she had a mental illness? I suspect so), it really did seem like she’d sacrificed everything to raise Pearl herself, the way she wanted. The trailer park seems to be some sort of haven for guns flowing in and out – there’s someone that buys them from the general public ostensibly as some sort of service to the community, taking them out of circulation….but then later on in the book it’s revealed that they’re flowing into Mexico.

Reading this as someone who isn’t American, the availability of guns is always a bit shocking. I don’t know anyone who owns a gun – I don’t know anyone who would ever want to actually. I don’t even know anyone these days that’s even fired one. People just casually cleaning stockpiles of them, others gifting guns for no reason, Pearl taking one with her when she leaves the trailer park later in the novel, the bus trip. It’s all really foreign to me, the American obsession with and love of guns. The whole ‘you’ll prize them out of my cold, dead hands’ type of stuff. I’ll never understand it and I suspect that most people from a few other countries are the same. No one will ever convince me of the benefits of having guns everywhere especially the types of guns that fire a lot of ammo in a very short amount of time. But anyway…

I feel like this was a book in two parts, in a way. The first part was very good – I really felt like I could see Pearl’s life, get a picture of it and what it was like, living in this car with her mother, the fly spray that they used every night to keep the bugs out – and a result, everything smelled like it, tasted like it. Her days around the trailer park, exploring the local dump with the other girl that also lived at the park (complete with descriptions of gross things they found), the nearby swamp with the ever lurking presence of alligators (that people like to randomly shoot, because why not, they’re there aren’t they). The irony of the preacher who deals in guns. But then there’s a shocking incident in the book and Pearl’s life changes dramatically. And from this point on, it felt like, for me, that the book kind of lost its way a bit. It felt a very abruptly different story and as it moved towards the conclusion, it felt like….it was unfinished. I didn’t really see the point of the ending – were they going to do to her what they were doing to the guns? Did the neighbour really care about her and want to give her a life? I honestly don’t know. Parts of it felt sinister, parts of it didn’t…..the neighbour expanded a lot of effort to track Pearl down. I honestly wasn’t sure what the point of that was, of taking her.

The first half of this novel – the portrayal of the poverty, the diverse cast of characters, was really brilliant. But the second half, I just couldn’t really understand where it was going and why.


Book #13 of 2020

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