By Steve Israel
Read by: Jonathan Davis
Length: 9 hrs and 40 mins
Release date: 04-17-18
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
I voluntarily reviewed an advance readers copy of this book. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.
From Steve Israel, the congressman-turned-novelist who writes “in the full-tilt style of Carl Hiaasen” (The Washington Post), comes a comic tale about the mighty firearm industry, a small Long Island town, and Washington politics.
When Chicago’s Mayor Michael Rodriguez starts a national campaign to ban handguns from America’s cities, towns, and villages, Otis Cogsworth, the wealthy chairman and CEO of Cogsworth International Arms worries about the effects on his company. In response he and lobbyist Sunny McCarthy convince an Arkansas congressman to introduce federal legislation mandating that every American must own a firearm. Events soon escalate.
Asabogue’s Mayor Lois Leibowitz passes an ordinance to ban guns in the town—right in Otis Cogsworth’s backyard. Otis retaliates by orchestrating a recall election against Lois and Jack Steele, a rich town resident, runs against her. Even though the election is for the mayor of a village on Long Island, Steele brings in the big guns of American politics to defeat Lois: political consultants, Super PACs, and celebrities. Soon, thousands of pro-gun and anti-gun partisans descend on Asabogue, along with an assortment of heavily armed rightwing militias and the national news media. Bucolic Asabogue becomes a tinderbox. Meanwhile, Washington politicians in both parties are caught between a mighty gun lobby whose support they need for reelection and the absurdity of requiring that every American with waivers for children under age four carry a gun. What ensues is a discomfiting, hilarious indictment of the state of American politics.
Former Long Island Congressman, Steve Israel has firsthand knowledge of the cynicism and corruption at the heart of our political system. Big Guns will make you laugh, will make you angry, and will make you think as you flip the pages faster and faster to find out what happens next.
The “Congressman-Turned-Author” label was both intriguing and off-putting. Israel was the congressional representative for New York’s third district, covering Brooklyn and Long Island, for 16 years. I usually reject this type of author; it is so often a celebrity looking to parlay their fame or access in one field into an other. But, who else could write a piece of fiction on a subject so important with the understanding required to present it realistically and with all the absurdity fights over the Bill of Rights often become.
There’s so much here to talk about that it is hard for me to organize y thoughts. I didn’t expect much but it was better than I imagined it would be.
There are many sides to the issue of gun violence, gun ownership and gun control:
Gun manufacturers and their lobbyists,
People who think of guns and the outcome of gunfights only in the glorious imagery of movies and TV programs where war and crime fighting are presented as romantic,
The liberals for whom the second amendment is the devil,
The rigid constitutionalists who believe they understand what the founders meant by the wording of the second amendment.
The people whose position rides on public perception: politicians and the media.
The “disaffected,” disadvantaged, and sometimes loose cannons, or people who are easily lead for whom gun control has become their raison d’etre.
The actual people, the citizens, haven’t got much to do with the development of the policies and messages we get. These various groups all have a stake in the issue. There are not many authors who can accurately portray even several sides of the political issue of gun control.
There are a lot of political issues, money issues and other issues involved. I don’t know that Israel was able to represent them with accuracy, or without the addition of romantic gloss to satisfy readers. But there are many sides and many twists in events, positions, and understanding of the issue. There are so many sides that it is all a bit glib; the author has not really taken the side of the super liberals, and certainly not those on the far right so all the sides are shallowly explored.
Some of the characters seem based on actual characters, celebrities with political ambition, living on the other coast. The writing is also a little shallow, with so many characters and so much plot to cover the writer spread himself a little thinly. It’s written in a humorous style as befits the absurd. It’s a little lighter than the gritty humor of Hiassen or Randy Wayne White. It is also an absurd tragicomedy. If shallow, it is also written without guile. It might not have been published without the “celebrity” offered by his position in Congress, but I think it is good that it was published. If nothing else, through it’s craziness, it shows what a high stakes — and highly muddled — issue this is.
We start of with Chicago under siege from violence and its mayor comes up with a coalition of cities disallowing the possession of guns. He also sees it as a stepping stone to the presidency. But, in truth, this storyline is important as the impetus for the entire book, but is not developed. And yet, at the end, the mayor shows up again. This story line is an empty chamber in the pistol of this plot.
And, yet while the characters are shallow, their lack of depth is almost vital. For in representing an ideological battle, everyone must be accounted for. The shallow characterization gives everyone a place in the plot.
Jonathan Davis does a great job with the many characters, both male and female, and from many areas of the country. His women sound fairly natural, except maybe for Asabogue’s Mayor Lois Leibowitz, who sounds a little too Brooklyn.
It’s not great literature, it may make a great movie, and it is a start to a discussion we need to have with civility.