A couple of weeks ago, as I was sitting on the bus furiously reading the last 50 or so pages of The Singer’s Gun, by Emily St. John Mandel, the woman sitting next to me asked whether I was reading a romance. I told her no, and for a little while that was the end of it. About 20 minutes later though, she asked what kind of book it was. “I’m curious,” she explained, and I loved that. The power a book has to start a conversation (even if my introversion meant that, at the time, I’d have rathered she left me alone). The problem was, I had no idea how to answer her. I knew what the book was about, but I had no idea how to categorize it, and I still don’t.
The Singer’s Gun is about a lot of things. There is love, but only as a quiet background to the longing, the tension, the fear, the mystery that seems to lay the framework for every one of Mandel’s books. This book was about the longing all of us feel for a different kind of life, for the grass that we are so sure is greener on the other side.
Anton Waker grew up in a criminal family. His parents owned an antique shop stocked with stolen furniture, and his cousin Aria spent a large portion of their childhood looking down on him for not stealing from his best friend’s family store. As young adults, Aria and Anton go into business together selling fake social security numbers and passports to illegal aliens. Despite all of this though, all Anton ever wanted was a normal desk job. A 9 to 5 he could come home from with a check on Fridays, that would require him to pay taxes every April. And for a while, Anton has that. He has the job with the respect, the wife who (might) love him, the best friend, the home. He even has a cat. But then his company performs a background check, and Aria blackmails him into doing one last job for her, and everything starts to unravel.
I loved every minute of this book: the oh-so-real desire for the exact thing we can’t have, the beautiful prose that could easily be poetry, the characters and backstories you’d never have expected but who, on second thought, seem so obvious they could be sitting across from you on the subway.
Of Mandel’s four books, I’ve finished three: Station Eleven, The Lola Quartet, and now The Singer’s Gun. I loved all of them, but I think that the climax and the ending to The Singer’s Gun may have made it my favorite (very close ahead of Station Eleven).