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Riveting Character Development Saves ‘The Gunners’ From Standard Plotline

3.5 Stars

By Bobae C. Johnson, Contributing Writer

In her novel “The Gunners,” released Mar. 20, Rebecca Kauffman explores the relationships between childhood friends whose group name inspire the title. After many years without making contact, 30-year-old Mikey Callahan reunites with his fellow Gunners—Alice, Lynn, Jimmy, and Sam—after the final Gunner, Sally, commits suicide. As they mourn for Sally, the remaining five Gunners learn about themselves, each other, and Sally. Kauffman successfully explores the emotional repercussions of relationships, despite its banal plot.

Kauffman’s prose provides a strong skeleton for the work as a whole. She effortlessly weaves the story together with a sparse writing style. Even within the chapters themselves, the prose is simple, yet elegant, conveying Kauffman’s ideas without excessive complication. The story flows and fits together in a satisfying fashion. Furthermore, Kauffman frequently uses sentence fragments in place of complete sentences, peppering them throughout the work: “Or perhaps the love had drained from him over the years, a slow leak.” In half a sentence, Kauffman packs in more imagery and information than many writers achieve in full sentences. She densely organizes her thoughts so that each clause plays its own significant role in keeping boredom at bay within a fairly familiar plotline.

The plot itself is not particularly unique. Though Kauffman finds nuances within the text, the actual story is not groundbreaking. Instead, it is rather cliché: The plot follows a group of friends bonding after a traumatic experience. Regardless of the number of twists that Kauffman throws in, the basic concept behind the novel is a standard one. The group members learn about themselves and each other as they mourn their lost friend. The lack of novelty within the story is apparent even within Kauffman’s elegant prose.

However, Kauffman’s details and the characters’ emotional journeys overcome the commonplace plot. The theme of the story is brought to life when Kauffman expands upone her ideas. How Kauffman explores the characters’ growth more than compensates for the well-trodden premise. She dives deeply into each character’s mind, exposing each one as flawed and human. In one flashback, she explores Lynn’s first experience with romantic feelings. Lynn does not face rejection gracefully. “Lynn threw her hands to her cheeks and began to cry immediately, mangled by shame.” She succeeds in creating real, imperfect human beings within the text, bringing unparalleled life to the story.

Kauffman unabashedly brings attraction, relationships, sex, love, and hatred to the fore­front. Her story is heart-warming, yet not sugar-coated by perfect heroes or villains. Kauffman successfully makes her novel real and compelling by including characters that don’t fit a specific mold, but rather emulate the human capacity for good and evil in equal measures. In “The Gunners,” Rebecca Kauffman takes a new spin on a basic storyline by using her talent in realism to create characters that easily resonate, providing an enjoyable read.

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