Lock & Load: Armed Fiction—literary gun stories examine firearms as powerful objects and metaphors

seatedguntoterWithout guns, our nation wouldn’t exist. Musket fire at Lexington and Concord brought the nation into being, the Winchester rifle and Colt .45 expanded its boundaries, and the Spencer carbine won the Civil War.

Firearms pervade American life; they loom as large in the national imagination as on the news. (Meet the American Goddess.)

To write our own gun stories, we researched the history of firearms and culture. We paid close attention to how other writers, from Anton Chekhov to contemporary authors, used those powerful objects. Too often, a character simply tossed a shotgun into the pickup to manufacture false drama or titillate readers; too many scenes mimicked TV and movie gunplay. Wide reading revealed that the use, or non-use, of a firearm introduced fictional possibilities even more striking than our nation’s other preoccupations: sports and cars.

As editors, we sought contemporary work by unknown and established writers. We are writers. We wanted not only evocative language, engaging action, and complex meaning, but we also looked for a firearm used as an essential object, something  real and metaphorical that advanced story and deepened resonance.

Some authors in this anthology have long pondered the presence of guns in American life. Annie Proulx, for instance, discussed American guns, and their context, in an interview with the Missouri Review.

America is a violent, gun-handling country. Americans feed on a steady diet of bloody movies, television programs, murder mysteries. Road rage, highway killings, beatings and murder of those who are different abound; school shootings—almost all of them in rural areas—make headline news over and over . . . The point of writing in layers of bitter deaths and misadventures that befall characters is to illustrate American violence, which is real, deep, and vast.

Some stories in Lock & Load do illustrate American violence, but they also illustrate our attitudes. As the severity and number of shootings has increased, and political acrimony around firearms has escalated, it’s become clear that contemporary American literature’s treatment of guns holds insights well worth considering.

Lock & Load: Armed Fiction contains complicated, provocative stories that range from tender to violent, chilling to hilarious. Love stories, war stories, coming-of-age stories, and revenge stories, these tales occur in landscapes familiar or ordinary, distant or dystopian, and they reflect Americans’ particular obsession with—and paranoia about—guns.

  • Pinckney Benedict’s “Mercy.” Cultures and values collide in Appalachia.
  • Annie Proulx’s “A Lonely Coast.” Contemporary women deal with with guns, trucks, and trouble.
  • Bonnie Jo Campbell’s  “Family reunion” starts with a young girl’s hunger to belong, and ends in rough justice for an unforgivable act.
  • Rick DeMarinis‘s “The Handgun.” The hilariously chilling story of a fraying marriage and a .22 revolver.
  • John Edgar Wideman’s “Tommy.” Desperation drives this intelligent but aimless young African American man into a fatal confrontation.
  • Jim Tomlinson’s “The Accomplished Son” pairs this veteran’s pain with the loss of his father.
  • Thirteen more compelling gun tales told by Mari Alschuler, Daniel Cox, Mary D. Edwards, Elaine LaMattina, John P. Loonam, Deirdra McAfee, BettyJoyce Nash, Nicole Louise Reid, Sara Kay Rupnik, Patricia Schultheis, Joann Smith, Gale Walden, and E.G. Willy.
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