Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Firearms, expandable batons, flick knives

Elberry is planning his first visit to America, and has listed Houston as one of his destinations. He wants to see my “arsenal of firearms, expandable batons, flick knives, coshes, brass knuckles, dobermanns, claymore mines, armed vehicles, sharks, etc.” Nobody gets his hands on my weaponry, though. Nobody.

One of the unexpected pleasures of rereading Thomas Williams (see below) was the enjoyment of male things—motorcycles (including an old prewar Indian Pony), hunting rifles, handguns (including a Nambu pistol), and power tools. Why is it that such things enforce solitude rather than “male bonding” or (God forbid) homosociality?

Equally interesting, as I reflect on how to prepare for Elberry’s visit, is how little American novelists say about the guns their characters use on one another. Humbert Humbert, who names everything else, refers to the automatic pistol that kills Quilty as “Chum.” Gatsby’s chauffeur hears the shots that kill his boss, and “a little way off in the grass” the body of the murderer—George Wilson—is found. Nothing is said about the gun, though, until several months later when Nick runs into Tom Buchanan on Fifth Avenue. Tom won’t say what he told Wilson, but explains to Nick: “His hand was on a revolver in his pocket. . . .” What kind of revolver? Are there different kinds? The only time that I can recall a gun’s being differentiated is when Ron Hansen observed, in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, that James carried two guns (“a .44 caliber Smith and Wesson and a Colt .45 in crossed holsters”). Otherwise weapons are largely a blur to American writers.


Anonymous said...

i have a feeling Cormac McCarthy is probably quite detailed about his firearms, he's the kind of man who notices things like that.

Jonathan said...

If I recall correctly you aren't a particular fan of Cormac McCarthy's novels (apologies if I'm mistaken). McCarthy is the one author that I personally can recall taking the time to describe and differentiate guns - by both manufacturer and calibre. It seems to be a point of pride with him to display a knowledge of firearms. He does it so often.

I don't have time to go and check right now, but I wonder if either Faulkner or Hemmingway took the time to describe firearms. Both were familiar with guns and rural living (even if only during vacations in Hemmingway's case)as children.

Even Zane Grey, who as I read as a boy, stuck to fairly generic descriptions if I recall correctly.

Jonathan said...

ah, elberry beat me to it.

That's what I get for pulling books off my shelf in the middle of writing a comment.