Kauffman, Rebecca. “The Gunners: A Novel”, Counterpoint, 2018.
Mikey Callahan, is thirty-years-old and suffering from the clouded vision of macular degeneration. He struggles to establish human connections and even his emotional life is a blur. The novel opens with Mikey reconnecting with “The Gunners,” his group of childhood friends, after, Sally, one of their members has committed suicide. Sally had already taken herself away all of them before taking her own life, and she died holding secrets about the group and its individuals. Mikey especially has had dark secrets that he needs to face about his past and about his father and we wonder how much Mikey’s state of darkness is because of emotions from which he suffers. Now, the members of the Gunners must find their way to live a new day but we wonder why did Sally’s suicide prompt this. Mikey, Lynn, Jimmy, and Sam, begin a search for the core of truth, friendship, and forgiveness and we are with them as they struggle
It has been a long time since I became so attached to characters and I felt, at times, that I was one of the Gunners. I thin that one of the reasons I feel this way is that this is a very quiet book that gets to us where we really feel. I can easily see why this book appears on so many “anticipated book lists”. It seems that one of the popular literary trends now are stories about friendship and I think that many of us have forgotten that a story about friendship is a love story and while the kind of love might be different it s very deep. When we add a chronic illness to the story that love takes on new dimensions just as the addition of an LBGT theme does. Our definitions of love fit the kind we are speaking of yet all of the definitions contain strong emotional feelings. Here we see love and friendship through the eyes of Mikey, a man who is losing his sight yet still can see. The Gunners reunite in order to deal with one of their friend’s suicide and as they come together, their stories move back and forth across time. As I read, I was reminded of a beautiful line of poetry, “Love doesn’t die, people do”. This is a story of friendship and loss yet we must again remember that “friendship doesn’t die, people do”.
Once again, we find ourselves struggling alongside the characters as they try to grow up and we know that this is not easy. Rebecca Kauffman intensely peers at the lessons of youth and truth allowing us to see the satisfaction that comes from long-term friendship even when there is grief and sadness. There are always challenges and they do not all deal with moving into adulthood. Our characters reconciles the responsibilities they carry and the secrets they keep and as they do, so do we.
I found myself in awe of the wonderful detail in the prose and how Kauffman was able to enter each character as she presents them to us. (I was a bit reminded of my college fraternity initiation as I met a whole new group of friends, one by one). The kind of love we experience in friendship is mysterious probably because it is incomplete and by that I mean whether or not we really know our friends. While we may believe we do, it is impossible to know them completely and because we do not, there is always something new to discover.
We meet the Gunners on their home turf in working class Buffalo, New York and we stay with them until their mid-thirties. As I said, they come back together because of the sudden suicide of fellow “Gunner” Sally who, as a teenager, abruptly abandoned the group with little explanation. After the funeral, the group comes together for the fist time in some ten years and spend an evening together dealing with what friends do together as they try to understand what brought Sally to that point. We learn that when Sally left the group, Mikey was left alone with a secret that would stay with him into his later years. It should not have been a secret and we also learn that he is not the only one with a secret. Sally was carrying secrets about the others as well and. Of course, no one knew if the secrets she carried would die with her. This reunion was a time for them all to face reality and the truth and reach for forgiveness.
As I reread what I have written here, I see that either I have not said enough or perhaps have said too much. Only by reading the book will you know. Hopefully you might also know more about yourselves and the nature of friendship.