I’m struggling right now, but hey, I’ve got my rights. Not healthcare rights, not reproductive rights, not education rights, but I’ve got my gun rights. A Gatling gun in every home—let’s make the West wild again.
For a while now I have held the position that for an American college (or better yet high school) student to graduate it should be required that they spend at least a few weeks abroad. Traveling away from one’s home country provides a priceless perspective on that country’s culture, economy, and politics. For instance, in my travels I learned that even though Hollywood is in the U.S. it is certainly debatable whether American movies are the best; that there are other countries in the world where it is simply more affordable for an average worker to live; and that in some cases our foreign policy has done real damage across the globe. American insularity is partly to blame for the myriad crises pushing our country to the tipping point. In her fiction series Friday Night Knife and Gun Club, Linda Collison chronicles these crises with a true love for pulp.
These are serialized adventure stories, each one about forty pages in length. All of the books have their own distinct plot, yet remain part of a larger narrative. If you are someone who enjoys binge-watching shows like Breaking Bad on Netflix, this might be a series you’ll love. The main character in the story is Kit Carson, an overworked nurse and mother just trying to take care of her patients and her kids in a world turned upside down. Other important characters are master archer and nurse Tim Rhodes (aka Tonto), the Trumpist villain Bully Ratzer, the strippers Stormy Wether and Balmy Wether, and Kit Carson’s kids, Wyatt and Calamity.
As indicated by the character names, this is a series steeped in the mythology of the American West. There is a strip club named The OK Corral, a character named Doc Halliday who used to be a buffalo soldier, and countless other references to both the fictional and the historical West. Much of the series is written in the voice of Kit Carson which has a comforting syntax rich with Western-American colloquialisms. There is also a lot of information about nursing and the American medical system. Linda Collison is a former nurse and I doubt that anyone without this experience would be able to write about the lives of these characters with such authority.
This insider knowledge is often used to satirize the state of American medicine. For instance, one of the hospitals where Kit Carson works is named Wellmart and cares far more about their profits than the lives of their patients. Some of the best moments in the series came when the narrator ruminated on the very practice of medicine itself. Another theme is America’s gun culture. In the series, everyone is armed, even the nurses as they help their patients! Bullets fly and blood spills in every book of the series as Collison describes a dystopian epidemic of violence rooted in the mythology of the American West. These are big and controversial issues, Collison does a good job of avoiding the didactic by placing them inside the narrative framework of a fast-paced thriller. In fact, this Western dystopia reminded me a little of the world created by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon in the Preacher comics.
While these stories were entertaining, the wagon ride wasn’t always smooth (that is my try at a Western colloquialism). By the third book in the series, other characters begin to join in narrating the action. Unfortunately, none of these other voices were as rich and confident as that of Kit Carson. There were also some parts of the story that could have been described with more detail, like a family that takes up residence in the back of Kit Carson’s truck and later helps to defeat a major villain or a high stakes card game that included some of the most important CEO’s in the healthcare industry.
This is my first fiction review for At The Inkwell and I hope I have not done anything irredeemable like give away major spoilers. Friday Night Knife and Gun Club offers a unique perspective on American violence and greed that you may otherwise only get through an international trip. During this pandemic it is probably best to stay safe, save your money, and check out this entertaining series by Linda Collison instead.
Benjamin Schmitt is the author of three books, most recently Soundtrack to a Fleeting Masculinity. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Sojourners, Antioch Review, The Good Men Project, Hobart, Columbia Review,and elsewhere. A co-founder of Pacifica Writers’ Workshop, he has also written articles for The Seattle Times and At The Inkwell. He lives in Seattle with his wife and children.