Book Review | The Singer’s Gun

Title: The Singer’s Gun

Author: Emily St. John Mandel

My Review:

THIS IS SIMPLY A WONDERFUL BOOK.  In only her second time out, Emily St. John Mandel has delivered a novel that approaches perfection.

THE SINGER’S GUN is an engaging story about a very likeable young man’s attempts to disassociate himself from his family’s criminal enterprises and build a life of respectability.  All he wants is to work in an office and reap the honest rewards of managerial labor.  To this end, he takes a short cut after high school, misrepresenting his academic credentials to his employer; and this misstep plunges him into exile, not only from his flawed family, but also from his new wife, his cherished mistress, and his beloved cat.  His unfortunate lapse into youthful laziness results in his becoming caught up in lawlessness far beyond his larcenous family’s ambitions.  Yet throughout his travails, he remains honestly introspective and continues to seek an ethical solution to his problems.

The characters in THE SINGER’S GUN are so finely drawn that the reader immediately takes them to heart.  Anton, the protagonist, is revealed through his musings over his past, his present, and his plight.  His sympathetic attitude toward others and his willingness to examine his own part in his downfall endear him to the reader and fill us with empathy for him.  His newlywed wife, Sophie, on the other hand, evokes a little bit of disdain even in the earliest pages, as she, a cellist with the New York Philharmonic, haughtily plays the role of artist under the author’s subtle tutelage.  Anton’s parents, although dishonest, come across as very pleasant and loving people, and the reader anguishes with them over Anton’s self-exile to Italy.  And even lovely cousin Aria, a sociopathic evil-doing criminal to the core, manages to seem not totally vile, as Mandel gives her a troubled childhood filled with abandonment and neglect.

THE SINGER’S GUN is especially remarkable for its language.  Over and over, the author seasons her tale with unique images and phrasing, and the result is a breathtaking freshness in the narrative. Her descriptions are quickly drawn, but her word choices are so precise that they are nonetheless fulfilling.  Her sentences are light, never ponderous, even in the midst of disturbing events and imagery, and the action is subtle, never unduly graphic.  It’s almost unnecessary to actually READ this book: the author’s lilting language floats the reader along to the book’s conclusion with scarcely the need to turn a page.  We enjoy harmony and elegance in the telling even amidst strife and discord in the content.

THE SINGER’S GUN is a beautifully written story that is important for its compassionate examination of one minimally flawed young man’s struggle for physical and spiritual freedom.  It gives our hero plenty to fight against without straining our credulity or requiring Anton to be a super-hero.  Perhaps even more significantly, it uses the English language the same way a Monet or a van Gogh uses color, allowing the subject matter to blossom gloriously under a light but sure hand. It deserves critical acclaim, and it deserves to be read.

A hearty THANK YOU! to Unbridled Books ( for providing a review copy of this book.

This review reflects the tastes, perceptions, and opinions of one person only and may be entirely wrong  from another person’s point of view.  Please read the book yourself and decide.