4 out of 5
Part One: I don’t like this book. Tuff guy Barney is a loner; the dude you call up only when you’re in a bind. He doesn’t trust people, and talks about humanity with some disdain, and waxes on about the technicalities of his passion – guns – in a way that suggests that someone – i.e. our author, David Schow – likes to show off their knowledge. It’s all gruff and gloomy; forced toughness. Barney gets a call from Carl, a friend – the term used loosely – from the war, who’s gotten himself into some trouble in Mexico, and won’t Barney please come to help? More disdain; Carl’s a ponce, and Barney’s gonna have to navigate his way through a ransom deal for Carl’s kidnapped girlfriend, and walks us through the steps for acquiring weapons and planning it out, and it’s all gritty, teeth-clenched stuff. There’s no real reason to care about Carl and his plight, and no real reason to care about Barney, and I ho-hummed at figuring I’d be working through 250 pages of this kind of stuff, expecting some inevitable “shit goes wrong” part of the plan, necessitating some typical revenge shenanigans.
Part Two: I… respect this book? Shit does go wrong. Fine. But what catches me off guard is how Barney realizes that he missed some things because of his holier-than-thou, too-cool-for-school approach. It’s an interesting bit of self-awareness, casting the first 70 pages or so of the book into a different light – Schow writing Barney to be rather purposefully off-putting, and the job to which he’s tasked similarly rather generic and blase, and committing to it. And then when it goes South, it jumps off a damn cliff to do so. This section of the book – another 70 or so pages – is titled “The Bleeding Rooms,” and it’s pretty grueling stuff. But it achieves this sensation, and earned my respect, not so much by being directly violent, rather by being real. “The Bleeding Rooms” is a waiting game, waiting for Barney to break at he hands of some tormentors, and Schow lets you stew in it. While Barney being the main character of the book suggests he’ll come through this crucible, the way this section is written really doesn’t allow you to guess how he’ll come through, and how he’ll be affected once on the other side. It’s pretty nerve-wracking stuff, and it’s also a pretty big narrative gamble, making you dislike this guy and his attitude, and then shutting you up in a room with him and his thoughts for a good long while.
Part Three: I like this book. The gamble pays off. Barney has become three-dimensional, and Schow has made it clear that, main character or not, he’s not really “safe.” Yes, we’re now into the revenge portion of the book, but this isn’t revenge taken by the same senseless, cold-hearted dude we started with, and his road to recovery – of getting to a point where he can take action – is given the same attentiveness and patience as The Bleeding Rooms; the same sense of reality.
Part Four and Five: Yeah, I’m sold. I’m loving this book.
David J. Schow’s Gun Work may not fully connect some of its attempted emotional threads, and Barney – and Schow – can’t quite get away from talking shop about guns and ammunition to an inside-baseball extent, but the author’s risky approach to the narrative pays off via the book’s intensity, which earns a reader’s full-on immersion as it urges us along Barney’s boiling rise to revenge.