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My Christian therapist in Redwood City once asked me if I really did have concealed assets Tabytha didn't know about When I asked him if he was on Tabytha's payroll too, he told me I was paranoid. I told him he was fired. That man lasted three sessions - longer than the so-called "lifestyle coach" in San Mateo who told me I was having a "mid-life crisis"
A philosopher I don't remember the identity of one said that it wasn't doubt, but certainty that killed. Maybe it was Voltaire. Or was it Nietzsche? Whatever, it's not that important. Ironically enough, it's a quote I have often heard from the intellectual types, referring to religious fanaticism, conflicts in the Middle East and anything that has to do with Bush's administration. Truth is, if you look at the situation this way, you're leaving other kinds of dogmas out of the situation and you might just be playing in one yourself. James Warner doesn't though. In ALL HER FATHER'S GUNS, he takes two radically opposite views of America, academia and business and looks for the traits that make them what they are. Life is chaos and there's no explanation that covers every angle of it. That, James Warner understands and shares with us in his delicious comedy.
At the center of ALL HER FATHER'S GUNS is Cal Lyte. The dad in question. He's really more than a dad, per se, He's a stereotypical father figure. A strong man, a venture-capitalist with no fear and an ex-wife who wants him to pay more alimony. Tabytha, his ex and mother of his daughter Lyllyan is running for congress and wants Cal to fund her campaign. Her lawsuit implies that he would have been hiding income from her in order to pay her a lower amount. Angry and tired of the situation, he turns to his daughter's boyfriend Reid, a mild-mannered academic, in order to be his insider in his struggle to solve his family problems. They are worlds apart in terms of upbringing and yet they are a lot more closer to each other than they think.
The idea behind Warner's novel is a little abstract. There are two narrators, Reid and Cal and a definite plot (Cal's domestic struggle with Tabytha, gradually blowing out of proportions), ALL HER FATHER'S GUNS is really about two lives clashing together and creating a chain of events more than a a straightforward plot. It makes the novel difficult to follow at times, because it reads like a series of connected stories rather than a seamless novel. Whenever the narration jumps from Reid to Cal (and vice-versa) you have to adjust to a very different narrator who's talking at the first person. While Cal's segments are carrying most of the story, Reid's parts sometimes read like a humorous sketch about academic life. It's pretty funny if you have been a part of this life like I did (the meta-narratives joke had me laughing out loud, very rare when I read a book), but the humor will be lost on some. He's funny and he has some perspective on the situation, but he's no Nick Carraway (I know, it's unfair to compare the two, but it's just to give you a frame of reference.)
"Reid!" yelled Boris Dartwood from the back room. He was sitting on the couch with his new boyfriend, an architect called Graham. "Cal invited me to Prague Springs to shoot bison some weekend. You have to go there. Guys in jeans and tan cowhide boots. It's like an angry white guy reservation. It's the caves of Nibelungen where smiths fasion terrible weapons. And those Kevlar jackets are to die for."
ALL HER FATHER'S GUNS is a seducing idea with its comedic approach, but it's not the easiest nut to crack. It's two character studies, but you have to keep in mind that those characters carry two opposite visions of the world and the beauty resides in the clash. Overall, it's a very ambitious first effort from James Warner. I can appreciate the thinking behind ALL HER FATHER'S GUNS, but as a reader I thought it lacked focus a little bit. Maybe it would have benefited from fifty more pages or from a single narrator. In the greater scheme of things, it's a novel that introduces an intriguing new talent in James Warner and a wealth of possibilities.
Read it for Cal Lyte's aggressive, borderline slapstick view of America or for the quirky academia jokes. ALL HER FATHER'S GUNS isn't greater than the sum of its parts, but the parts themselves are worth looking into.