by Fran Withrow
Several years ago, as I sat on my front stoop in the early morning hours, a masked man came around the corner of the porch and pointed a gun at me. I screamed so loudly I was heard at the other end of the block, and, fortunately, the man ran away. I didn’t like guns before that incident, but after that frightening day my dislike turned to loathing.
So imagine my chagrin when I opened “Lock and Load” and discovered that every short story in this collection of fiction has a common element: firearms. I shook my head: what were the editors thinking? One of them, my dear friend Betty Joyce Nash, has always awed me with her critical analyses and astute thinking on a variety of subjects. This time I was sure she had missed the mark in choosing such a polarizing topic for her anthology.
But one must keep an open mind. So I started reading.
Right off the bat, editors Nash and McAfee inform the reader they are not taking a stance on the gun issue. Rather, their purpose in collecting these stories is to spark conversation. And maybe it is time for a new tactic, since the divide between gun control advocates and gun owners seems to get wider every year.
The horrific Las Vegas shootings had just occurred when I received this book, so despite their disclaimer, I was skeptical. However, as I turned the pages I found myself thinking less about my own perspective about guns, and more about how integral they were to the tales. I found myself imagining how I would react if I were one of the characters. That some of them tote a rifle makes sense: it could not be otherwise in the context of the story. That others carry a gun as easily as I might carry a toothbrush shows just how deeply entrenched guns are in our society.
I quickly became engrossed in the book, staying up too late, reading “just one more.” Of course not every story resonated with me. That’s the beauty of an anthology. But many of them stayed with me long after I put the book away. I was fascinated by “Revealed,” in which every adult is issued a gun and one bullet per day, to be used however they see fit. “The Weight” had me cheering for women who finally take a stand against those who abuse them. And I was gleeful as I finished “Family Reunion.” I won’t tell you how the gun figures in that superbly written story, but suffice it to say that it involves a sweet revenge. I am now eating crow for saying that guns never have an appropriate use.
So Nash and McAfee have accomplished their goal with me. I am ready for more discourse. Guns aren’t going to go away: they are part and parcel of our society. How can we find a common ground: a way to prevent the misuse of these powerful weapons? Let’s start talking. And reading this excellent compilation is a great way to begin.
“Lock and Load: Armed Fiction”
Edited by Deirdra McAfee and Betty Joyce Nash
University of New Mexico Press