The Singer’s Gun

I am back another time to sing the praises of Emily St. John Mandel, this time for her second book, The Singer’s Gun (2010).  Back on July 12th here, I promoted her first book, Last Night in Montreal.  This second book shares some of the same characteristic of that title and that is high praise for the appeal factors of this book.

St. John Mandel is brilliant at creating seemingly bland simple plots that begin the book by placing the reader on a path in one direction.  I guarantee you that those readers are not in the same place of expectations when the stories are resolved.  I am not sure how she quite pulls off having a reader stay so loyal to a book when you never really know what they are about, but she does.

The characters are always interesting but not in a spectacular way.  They are thinkers, introverts and mostly failures who on occasion need to have some common sense slapped into them.  They are compelling to read about as they are constructed in such a way that you sympathize yet often feel frustration at their inability to get where they want to go.  Here is a line about the lead character in this novel, Anton, that I think particularly shows that distinction:  “The worst thing about having an affair was that he was naturally good at it.”  (p. 50)

To St. John Mandel’s credit, the plots are difficult to summarize without giving away the joy of discovering what the events are going to be.  Let us leave it at this for The Singer’s Gun:  Anton Waker was born to parents who spend their lives reselling stolen goods.  His conscious makes him reject that life yet right out of high school he finds himself selling fake Social Security cards and forged passports with his dangerous adopted cousin Aria.  After leaving the business he gets pulled back in one more time by Aria when he is asked to deliver a package to a man on an Italian island while Anton is supposed to be on his honeymoon.

This novel, as is the previous one, is a voyage of discover for both the characters and the reader.  I think book discussion groups will love this one as much as the first.

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About the Author:

Gary Niebuhr is the author of Make Mine a Mystery (2003), Caught up in Crime (2009), and other readers' guides to mystery and detective fiction. He was a Booklist contributor from 2008-2014.

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