Bender (Divided We Fall, 2014, etc.) offers a dystopian novel about an America ruled by gangs and gun manufacturers and about the brave few who are willing to fight them both.
In a near-future United States, Congress has overturned the National Firearms Act of 1934, which attempted to regulate the sale and distribution of automatic weapons. Since then, gun manufacturer Breck Ammunition has been selling its Yossarian assault rifle to all comers, including the Red Stripe Gang, primarily made up of angry, white men. Meanwhile, a Born-Again Patriots movement has swept through government, effectively neutering the presidency and federal courts and moving power to the states. Rosa Veras is a reporter for the Las Vegas newspaper Our Times, which is owned by Breck Ammunition. She’s disgusted by the results of her research, which connects Arizona gun deaths with Breck’s profits. Later, at a gun show, Rosa gets a demonstration of the brutal new Breck 100X rifle from CEO Gerard Breck himself. Meanwhile, in Liberty, Arizona, a vigilante called “the Wanderer” has shot and killed a man named Tom Jenkins during a service at the Church of Santa Maria. The Stetson-wearing loner murdered Jenkins in retaliation for shooting the now-hospitalized Sara Heller, as local sheriff Ben Martin’s neutered police department stands no chance of catching him. Rosa wants to interview the Wanderer for her substantial, investigative side-blog The New West. She must find him quickly, however, as tech-savvy bounty hunter Charlie Johnson is also on his trail.
The author’s new novel might be summed up by a line from Rosa’s editorial: “Sometimes it feels like America is spinning in an opposite direction from the planet Earth.” As real-life America spins out of alignment with other nations’ gun-control laws, he critiques its obsession with the Second Amendment and shows how it could threaten to shred the nation’s true founding principles. For example, a mayor replies to a sheriff’s complaints of lawlessness with “the government hasn’t made laws for years!” Ironically, Bender packages his message in a first-rate action narrative, filled with the sort of violence that has attracted gun lovers to pop-culture icons like Rambo and Dirty Harry for decades. In one cinematic scene, for instance, a gang member meets his end when “thunder cracked, and blood burst out the back of his skull.” Such indulgent moments of machismo are balanced by superior characterization, particularly of the Wanderer’s sidekick, Kid Hunter, and 12-year-old bandit Lindsay. The fact that the Wanderer still wears his wedding band and is haunted by the ghost of a woman named Helen connects to a complex, satisfying origin story that includes Breck Ammunition itself. Throughout, Bender proves to be an instructive novelist, challenging American readers with basic scenarios that could very well come to pass: “when you leave the house, you're checking for your wallet, your keys, your phone, and your gun. Like these are equally essential things for the day ahead.”
A tight, thoughtful work that has much to offer readers on both sides of the gun control debate.