Reviewed by Joe Walters
I’d call it a fever dream if it all weren’t so hauntingly real.
Jeff Chon weaves an unstoppable narrative—or narratives—with biting cultural critique, humor, and anxiety in his break-neck debut Hashtag Good Guy with a Gun. I might not have picked up this book if I hadn’t seen it on this list (twice), but now here I am panting.
The unraveling begins with Scott Bonneville, a disgraced teacher, entering the back door of a pizza parlor in order to foil an ongoing crime-ring he’s convinced is being operated out of the pizza shop basement. There are kids down there, he knows. He’ll kill if he has to get down there.
But someone is already in there, pointing a gun at the employees.
To save himself and perhaps the others, Scott barrels into the room and shoots the man with the gun. Instead of foiling the crime, he saves the day. And thus, he becomes the face of a popular hashtag getting swept up by gun owners across the nation: #GoodGuyWithAGun.
As it happens right around the 2016 election, it’s used widely and for disproportionately important political purposes. As we get to know Scott—which both takes a short amount of time and a long amount of time—we grapple with the truth that this guy is knee-deep in dangerous conspiracies and should not represent that there are, indeed, good guys with guns out there.
How impressive is it that Chon tackles something so damn big and so damn recent in these delirious and thought-provoking ways? It’s art first and politics first, simultaneously. We contend with so many problematic views that it could feel tiresome—and it kind of is—but it’s all smushed together in rapid-fire back-and-forth storylines that we gain new energy by the first paragraph of the page of each succeeding chapter. Maybe I shouldn’t have read it so fast. Maybe that way I wouldn’t need such a big breather by the end of it.
All I’ve talked about here is Bonneville, but this novel includes a swarm of characters in different timelines, different stories, different panics, different paranoias. The book is a smattering of explosive mini-stories wrapped up in one overarching story that has us questioning constantly if Chon has another twist left in him.
The novel is both internal and external. There are active scenes where we see characters doing things, but there are also blips of scenes where we spiral down the thought-processes of people who are convinced that something wrong is undeniably right. There is such anger in this book, as there is in our world, but I still leave feeling capable of being in it.
Hashtag Good Guy With a Gun is smart, mindbending, delirious, incisive, and so many other adjectives all at once. If you’ve got it in you to tackle something in such recency and relevance to the way our world has damaged over the last few years, feast your eyes on this.
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