Book Review : Jordan Harper - She Rides Shotgun (2017)
California-based author Jordan Harper turned a lot of heads in 2015 with his debut short story collection Love and Other Wounds, including mine. I don't remember a book that elicited such a strong emotional reaction from me since I've read it and it's been what? 18 months? Harper's elaborate prose and eye for poetry immediately struck a chord with me and I've become his biggest fan. The man could make anything beautiful with words. If you don't know who Jordan Harper is yet, rejoice. His first novel She Rides Shotgun is now available for pre-order, so read this review and get your copy now. It'll be out on June 6 and you can thank me then. It lived up to every unhealthy expectations I had for it. First novels are somewhat tricky but She Rides Shotgun is one of the strongest I've read in a couple years.
Eleven years old Polly McClusky is unexpectedly picked up from school by her jailbird father Nate one day. She barely remembers him and had no idea he was even out. Nate would be a free man indeed if it wasn't for the Aryan Steel, a white power gang who greenlit him and everyone he loves after a tragic confrontation with the president's brother in the prison yard. Vulnerable to every greedy criminal seeking advancement in the organization, Nate turns to what he knows best: surviving. There's not a hundred ways of doing it: they need to either disappear or make their problem disappear. Nate and Polly hit the road, they keep moving and looking for safe haven wherever they can, but the Aryan Steel is everywhere and it becomes a question of time before something terrible happens.
I love novels about survival and I got served a faceful here. The nazis of Jordan Harper are brutal, animalistic and ubiquitous. They are predators in the concrete jungle. What makes them so fucking terrifying is that Nate and Polly's lives are mere commodities to them. They would chase a man and his daughter to the other end of the world if it meant professional advancement within the Aryan Steel. She Rides Shotgun features a quasi-omnipotent antagonist who also happens to be a racist, yet it never lets politics take over the novel. It's a subtle thing, but this is why it works so well. The Aryan Steel are terrifying assholes and not just assholes. Nate and Polly can't just fend them off by being good people. They need to change, adapt and make moral compromises in order to survive. She Rides Shotgun is a great example of a bricks-and-mortar successful survival story.
"The world wants you scared of yourself. You have to let them blows come. You have to take them. You have to be ready. You can't go crazy. You can't freeze up. You got to take the punches. And you got to punch back."
What makes Jordan Harper different and better than most writers is that he's a stylist. His prose has a recognizable identity. He also thinks his story in unconventional terms. Chapter 0 of She Rides Shotgun sets the tone for new readers in that regards. It's the only moment in the novel directly involving antagonist Crazy Craig Hollington who lives in complete isolation in a supermax penitentiary. Harper describes the Aryan Steel as a hive mind organism controlled by Hollington, who lived through the words and actions of his men on the street. I would call it borderline magic realism if it wasn't so goddamn bleak. Jordan Harper writes in short, impersonal sentences and describes the world in simple, vivid and sometimes childlike images. The line between the observed and the perceived is often blurred and creates a narrative paradigm with a lot of soul to it. Jordan Harper's imaginary is extremely cohesive, thanks to his gorgeous and elaborate prose.
She Rides Shotgun is a first novel, which means it's pretty straighforward as Jordan Harper is still finding his footing as a storyteller. It's a revenge story. A tale of bad blood escalating between a man, his daughter and an army of violent, ruthless killers. Whenever Harper is involved though, it's not the WHAT but the HOW that's impressive. How he crafted a terrifying and compelling antagonist that dictates the entire terms of the novel despite only being seen in the first chapter. How he took such a unique angle on such a conventional trope. She Rides Shotgun did not blow me away like Love and Other Wounds did because it was more or less what I expected it to be: a lean, mean and visceral novel told in Jordan Harper's intoxicating language. I've enjoyed the hell out of it anyway and what's beautiful about that is that Harper will only get better from here. A first novel isn't like a first album, authors age like fine wine and Jordan Harper's best is still to come. Get in the bandwagon while you can and pre-order She Rides Shotgun now, beautiful people.