SHE RIDES SHOTGUN by JORDAN HARPER

HarperCollins/ECCO

June 2017

 

Sometimes, you’ve just got to believe the hype.

For the last five months, I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews from people I trust for Jordan Harper’s debut novel SHE RIDES SHOTGUN. Harper had already caused a stir with his short-story collection LOVE AND OTHER WOUNDS, so hopes were high for his forthcoming novel. That’s the thing about social media: when you tend to hang out with like-minded folks, everyone seems to have the same likes and dislikes that you do. We all dig the same stuff, look forward to the same books, rave about the same movies. This book was on my list, and it was just a matter of making my way through my To Be Read Pile.

If only I could read faster, I could have gotten to this wonderful book so much sooner.

SHE RIDES SHOTGUN does not read like a debut novel. It is sharp, skillful, poetic and oftentimes really quite brutal. But it is also: touching, imaginative, and oftentimes crazy experimental in its storytelling.

The story of ex-con Nate and his eleven-year-old daughter Polly is told expertly in spare, haunting prose. It’s quite deceptive. You actually start to think “Oh, I get it. Short sentences. Hard boiled descriptions. Shades of Parker and Westlake. I see what’s going on here.” No. You really do not because meanwhile Harper is skillfully seasoning his story with heart and emotion and before you know it, the reader is completely and totally emotionally invested in the story. I was not prepared to care this much about Nate, Polly, and Polly’s teddy bear. Yes, Polly has a teddy bear and that teddy bear is my favorite character of 2017.

The story is deceptively simple: While serving time, Nate ends up killing a high-ranking member of the Aryan Steel gang. In retaliation, Crazy Craig Hollington, president of the Aryan Steel, issues a kill order on Nate, Nate’s ex-wife, and their daughter Polly. Nate is a hardened criminal, but he does the right thing and goes to save his estranged family. He gets to Polly in time. He is too late to save Polly’s mom. Together, Nate, Polly, and Polly’s teddy bear set out to get their death sentence lifted while trying to figure out if they are a family while also trying to stay alive.

Jordan Harper tells his story in short, crisp sentences and descriptions that cut like knives. While channeling the best of Charlie Houston and Don Westlake, Harper is his own man. And by doing justice by Polly – by respecting her character and fleshing out her journey –  Harper elevates SHE RIDES SHOTGUN to the level of the very best of this year’s novels.

 

Dan Malmon