Throughout the novel, Clement maintains the intoxicating potency of the language. Gun Love is reminiscent of gushing lyrics you can imagine singing in the throes of crazy grief. Clement also deftly works in phantasmagoric touches reminiscent of books such as Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! and Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love; this is a world of Native American ghosts and 12-legged lizards, where a lovesick girl buries her vast collection of Barbies waist-deep in her yard to express despair, and cached guns speak to Pearl in her sleep, telling the stories of their crimes. All sad women are psychic here. All love is at first sight...Even in the weakest sections of the narrative, there are moments of gritty magic. It’s a cup of sugar and a great pop ballad. That’s more than enough to make the book both readable and fun. It isn’t quite enough to make us care.
Clement’s turn to fiction is oddly dreamy for such a topic, as if to suggest the self-delusion of the real-life actors involved. “My mother was always full of birthday-candle wishes,” comments Pearl, who habitually steals cigarettes in a kind of self-immolation of her own. But the writing is crisp and the images sharp: a field of 63 Barbies buried up to their knees around a trailer; the hatching of conjoined twin alligators “still with white pieces of eggshell on the green, scaly back they shared...“My mother was a cup of sugar,” Pearl says. “You could borrow her anytime.” Once the bond between mother and daughter comes apart, Pearl is swept into the gun trade. With the “souls of animals and the souls of people” emanating from the guns all around her, she hears a song of praise: “Pearl, Pearl, Pearl in congratulation.” Her complicity with the violence seems eerily unconscious, mirroring America’s unnatural inability to admit to the grave consequences of unchecked gun proliferation.