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BLOODBATH NATION by Paul Auster Kirkus Star


by Paul Auster ; photographed by Spencer Ostrander

Pub Date: Jan. 10th, 2023
ISBN: 9780802160454
Publisher: Grove

The acclaimed novelist lays out how America became a nation terrorized by personal weaponry.  

In this brief but remarkably moving work, Auster blends personal and historical commentary, anecdotal and statistical evidence, sober analysis, and passionate appeals for reform, sketching the origins and present reality of American gun violence. Early in the book, he reveals a disturbing secret: When his father was 6 years old, his grandmother deliberately shot and killed his grandfather in an act attributed to temporary insanity. Auster suggests that this tragedy and its ramifying trauma might be viewed as broadly and uncannily representative of modern American life, where such violence has been normalized by its frequency. The author remains both sensible and compelling in his commentary as he notes the divisiveness of efforts at gun control, and he skillfully summarizes the reasoning and emotional commitments of both pro- and anti-gun activists. His outline of the nation’s historical relationship with guns is astute and memorable, and he persuasively assesses the sociopolitical roots of the “right to bear arms,” the ideological impacts of long-term conflicts with Native Americans and the enslavement of African Americans, and the strange oscillations of outrage and complacency that define contemporary responses to mass shootings. Though Auster’s arguments will be familiar to anyone who has followed gun control debates closely, the author’s overview is exceptional in its clarity and arresting in its sense of urgency. The book includes a series of photographs by Ostrander, each of them absent of human figures or any overt suggestion of traumatic events—caption: “Safeway supermarket parking lot. Tucson, Arizona. January 8, 2011. 6 people killed; 15 injured (13 by gunfire).” The photos document the sites of mass shootings and provoke, like the text, disquieting confrontations with the nation’s transformation of all private and public settings into potential sites of violence.

A harrowing, haunting reflection on the routine slaughter wrought by guns.