Friday, September 14, 2012

All Her Father's Guns - James Warner

All Her Father's Guns, James Warner
Vox Novus/Numina Press, 2011

"You know a relationship with a woman's getting serious when you find yourself installing a Browning gun safe in her bedroom."

Let's face it, election season can make us all a little bit unbearable. Our convictions flare up. We shout our beliefs, profess our loyalties, dig in our heels, argue with our neighbors, pick our sides. Fortunately there are folks out there who remind us that it's good for our humility, our sanity, and ultimately our clarity - to sometimes take our politics - and ourselves - just a little less seriously.

If you're in need of such a comedic lift, it might be a good time to consider James Warner's All Her Father's Guns, in which socially conservative, government-resenting, arms-bearing Cal Lyte has to form an alliance of sorts with his daughter Lyllyan's English, underachieving, wiffly-waffly, ivory-tower-liberal-professor boyfriend Reid Seyton. You wouldn't think they'd have much in common, but each has lost Lyllan in his own way, and each needs to get her back. Along their road to reconciliation we meet the eccentric coworkers in Reid's obscure academic department; Viorela, a mysterious, Eastern-European theory-quoting psychologist who becomes Cal's lover; Tabytha, Lyllyan's mother and Cal's pill-popping ex-wife of a Republican congressional candidate; Melchior, Tabytha's stuttering skeleton-in-the-closet; Cal's libertarian compound friends; a few government agent types, and finally some Mexican revolutionaries. Throw in a few pregnancies, a car crash, a coma, a question of paternity, some blackmail and a little kidnapping and you have the classic ingredients of a madcap adventure.

While politics are at the center of the novel's plot, as political satire goes, it's fun, though I didn't find it especially revelatory. For me, the novel's soul resided in its personal moments, which revealed more about being human than about partisanship, and gave the story its depth and distinction. Reid and Lyllyan must deal with choices around pregnancy and parenthood, for example, Cal must decide if he can choose love over ideology, and a rather touching father-son relationship evolves between Cal and Reid. The author portrays the characters and their dilemmas with compassion and humor (and if ever you thought you couldn't like a guy like Cal, you might be surprised). I especially loved a disclosure at the end of the novel about the authorship of some of the chapters - I won't say more than that for not wanting to spoil it - but it seemed a perfect, poignant closure for Reid and Cal's story.

Overall I thought All Her Father's Guns was a good read and I really enjoyed it, though it didn't quite hit the heights of hilarity or illumination that I expected from some of the cover blurbs and other reviews. As you may have gathered, there are a lot of characters, events, and details packed in, occasionally to the point of distraction. But if you like a novel with a full, quirky cast, a healthy dose of political skepticism, humor, and lots of heart, you'll likely enjoy it. I highly recommend this interview with the author over at The Literate Man, and it is well worth checking out some other reviews, such as this one over at PANK magazine by Thomas M. Duncan and this one over at Necessary Fiction by Nancy Freund.

James Warner's short stories have been published in literary magazines Narrative, KGB Bar Lit, Untoward, Night Train and others. You can find him at his website and on twitter.  My thanks to the author for a review copy of All Her Father's Guns.

Happy reading!


  1. Nice review -- I got this way earlier in the year, started it, chortled, put it down and forgot about it -- I need to pull it out again.

    1. thanks Audra - would love to hear your take on it!

  2. Sounds like fun, and good satire. I think I can see from everything you've written how the personal might be better here than the political, the relationships sound complex but with resolution in their future if the right choices are made. Good review!

    1. thanks, Charlie! the characters are fun, and a nice reminder about the ways we connect/disconnect as well


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