The Gunners

5 of 17
The Gunners
224 pages
In the beautifully wrought The Gunners, life ends not with a whimper, but with a bang. When one member of a once-inseparable circle of friends commits suicide, it's like a detonation, and in the aftermath, the five survivors scramble to pick up the shattered pieces.

This engrossing book's suspense lies not just in what will happen, but in what already has. Set in "the depressed suburb" of Lackawanna, New York, just south of Buffalo, the story spans decades, gracefully pivoting between past and present. As kids, the group dubbed themselves the Gunners, adopting the name posted on the rusted mailbox of the abandoned house where they convened to drink and commiserate. Now they're in their 30s, and Sally's death spurs their first get-together since they were young

At the heart of the book is Mikey. In the eyes of the others, he's the most loving, but his emotional life is shadowy. He's something of an Oedipal hero—his vision is blurring, and he never knew his real mother, until one of the friends reveals a secret that brings his past into agonizing focus.

Kauffman is interested in the muddiness of love—how it can be selfish and desperate, even cruel. After Sally's funeral, Alice tells Mikey about her technique for selecting and preserving earthworms to sell at her marina: Once picked, they need to be set in soil; otherwise, the worms will "kill themselves gettin' all wrapped up in each other." The novel is rife with images of the squiggly creatures, as well as grackles, owls, and other critters. When it comes to love, Kauffman suggests, we're equal parts predator and prey.
— Claire Luchette