The Singer's Gun
“Most things you have to do in life are at least a little bit questionable.”
— Emily St. John Mandel
“To live outside the law you must be honest.”
The Singer’s Gun is a recklessly entertaining book from the unique novelist Emily St. John Mandel (Last Night in Montreal). Mandel’s writing style is so unique that it’s sui generis—not classifiable. If Mandel had been a musician, she might have been Harry Nillson or, perhaps, Joni Mitchell. Like those two, Mandel has the guts of a cat burglar: she’s unbridled, not hemmed in by other’s boundaries or rules. Reading Mandel is quite a fun ride especially because, as one bookstore owner stated, “She doesn’t shy away from the gray areas of life.”
The Singer’s Gun is the story of Anton, a man born into a New York City based family that lives in the gray and questionable areas of life. Anton’s parents sell stolen architectural goods (Waker Architectural Salvage) and his female cousin Aria sells fake passports, green cards and other things that Anton desires not to know the details of. Anton, of course, has a bit of the thief’s blood in him so he uses false pretenses to secure a copy of a diploma from his supposed alma mater, Harvard. The only problem is that Anton only graduated high school, not college.
After Anton’s long-term engagement to his fiancée results in a very, very short-term marriage (it’s shorter than the honeymoon trip), and he has trouble at work, he’s tempted to take a “last job” offer from Aria. But then the plot, the story line, of The Singer’s Gun is not of great import —it’s a pretense to let Mandel perform her magic. Here is an example, a paragraph, from this borderline brilliant novel:
“Anton met a cellist at a party that year, a spectacularly talented girl who didn’t know he’d never been to Harvard, and he proposed to her eight months later. Sophie and the job together formed the foundation of his new life; between the straight clean lines of a Manhattan tower he rose up through the ranks, from junior researcher to VP of a research division. His dedication to the company was mentioned in his performance reviews. He directed his team and came home every night to a woman he loved in an apartment filled with music in his favorite neighborhood, until it all came apart at once, and he found himself lying naked next to his former secretary in the summer heat.”
Yes, the whole book is like this, which means you, the reader, won’t dare to guess what happens next. Let’s just say that in the end Anton is forced to make a choice between his old life and his old family, and a new life and a new family. His choice will also involve a decision to either live outside of the law or within its confines.
At the conclusion of The Singer’s Gun the reader finds that Anton has determined who he honestly is, and how he must live. It is, yes, a revelation at the conclusion of another modern morality tale. Still in Singer’s Gun the story isn’t half as important as the telling, and in the hands of Mandel the rocking and rolling never stops. Whew!