I picked up Gun Love from NetGalley because it was mentioned on a few lists of anticipated new fiction in 2018, including this one from Huffington Post. Ultimately I was disappointed in this book. Despite its (sadly) timely subject matter, I didn’t care for the characters and I found the writing too self-conscious.
The novel is about Pearl, who spends her first fifteen years living out of a car in a trailer park with her mother Margot. Margot got pregnant at a young age, had Pearl in secret, and left her wealthy but abusive family to raise her daughter on her own. Since Pearl has never known a different life, living in a car seems normal to her, as does not having a father or any other family. The trailer park is her neighborhood and its residents are her family.
Pearl is described as pale, even abino, with pure white hair. This, combined with her name, was one of the things I found overly self-conscious in the book. She’s also not a terribly nice person, but I can live with that in a fifteen-year-old. What was more problematic for me is that I just never had any real emotional connection to this book. Occasionally Clement helps the reader visualize what it’s like to grow up in a car, but often I just felt removed, at a distance. Although I did appreciate her commentary on the senselessness of life in Central Florida.
If you’re looking for realism or detail about Pearl’s life, you won’t find it in this book. Her mother is a romantic, a dreamer, and that’s how Pearl is raised and how she thinks. In the opening of the book we are set up to know that Margot’s boyfriend will cause Pearl’s world to come apart. He does, but not in the way I expected. Guns come into play because several of the trailer park residents are in fact running an underground gun business, including a pastor who claims his gun program is to get guns off the streets.
Sadly, it felt very timely to read this book about guns, when gun control is foremost on my mind. But Clement’s book didn’t offer any insights. I really disliked Margot, who seems to live in this dream world and does very little to give her daughter a decent life.
For a better read about a fatherless girl named Pearl, I recommend Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere.
Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley and Crown Publishing. The book publishes March 6, 2018.