Today I woke to the all-too-familiar tragic news of yet another mass shooting. Sadly, we all know what will happen next: politicians will sputter, talking heads will bloviate, and the next thing that gets done about gun control will be – absolutely nothing.
Such is the subject of Ben East’s hard-edged new novel, Patchworks. The narrator, Gabriel “Gabe” Dunne, is a Washington, D.C. intern, stuck in a rather unglamorous position…
Gabriel goes on an admirable, utterly quixotic campaign against the NRA, but even that feeble attempt to break free from the shackles of the government “cube farm” seems motivated less by an angelic nature than by the tragic deaths of a colleague’s children in a school shooting. In other words, like Nancy Reagan with stem cell research or Dick Cheney with gay rights, it seems that Gabe becomes truly interested in a major issue like gun control only after it affects him personally.
The characters in Patchworks are almost universally conflicted, and although most of their conflicts are held at arm’s length from the reader – conveyed second-hand by the righteous Gabe – author East does a fine job of making them sympathetic. At worst, a few of them are ciphers; at best, the kind of characters one feels are true, but just as gloriously unknowable as our own friends and colleagues.
In that sense, Patchworks is something of a patchwork itself, like the shirt cobbled together by a school shooting victim’s father: admirably cobbling together the disparate stories of a motley bunch, connected through circumstance and the perhaps-unreliable point of view of an enigmatic narrator. Though it left me with mixed emotions, I can’t help but recommend it for these bleak times.