Q&A with Rebecca Kauffman, author of The Gunners

30 January 2019

‘Moments of high tension – involving closeted sexuality, unrequited love and hidden parentage – erupt from a narrative that wrongfoots you with its careful pace’ Daily Mail

Rebecca Kauffman’s The Gunners is the ultimate high school reunion novel, full of big characters, dark secrets and unfinished business. When a group of old school friends are forced back together at the funeral of a former friend, they must delve into why she left them all those years ago – and what it means for their lives, then and now.

The author answers our burning questions about this remarkable novel.

 kauffman gunners

What is it about childhood friends that makes them so significant? 

Your childhood friends will likely be the first people who challenge the world view your parents have introduced to you. Your parents may have conditioned you to believe things such as, People can be trusted, or People can’t be trusted, or, If you behave this way, you can expect this reaction, etc. These notions are put to the test when you start to form relationships outside of your home. So not only will you absorb early ideas and interests from your childhood friends, but you’ll likely form new opinions about your parents and reassess how closely you hold their views.

Are you still in touch with your high school friends? Did it influence your writing? 

My closest friends in high school were my sister and two of my cousins, and I’m still in close touch with them. Otherwise, regrettably, I haven’t remained in touch with folks from high school. I avoid social media, and the difficulty of reconnecting and maintaining that sort of relationship without Facebook, etc. is an unfortunate side effect of steering clear of these networks. That said, the absence of those past friendships has certainly influenced my writing. In the book, Sally breaks contact with her friends for no discernible reason and they’re left to grapple and grieve. In less dramatic fashion, I’ve been on both ends of this with friends, as the one who leaves and the one who gets left. It’s a confusing and deeply affecting experience, and something I sought out to examine in my work. 

Why did you set The Gunners in Lackawanna? 

I lived in Buffalo, NY (Lackawanna is a suburb) for about two years, and have great fondness for it and the people I knew there. I love many things that Buffalo is known for: snow, football, chicken finger sandwiches, huge abandoned downtown venues. It’s a vibrant, distinct, tough-as-nails city. I set my first two books there versus Ohio or New York City (both of which I had lived in for much longer), because for some reason Buffalo was the most alive and precise in my mind.  

Each of the characters in The Gunners has a very distinctive voice. We couldn’t get Alice’s sassy tone our of our head, while we had great sympathy for Mikey, the protagonist, with his approaching blindness and sense of stasis. How did you feel about your characters while you were writing them? 

I have the trouble of loving every character I create. I see the best in them, I want the best for them. It’s easy for me to lose sight of whether or not the reader will find a character sympathetic, because my affection for my characters is so immediate and has little to do with how they actually behave on the page. 

In its rave review, NPR said of your writing, ‘When she explores an emotion, she does it with absolute candor. Her characters announce their grief and affection and rage in a way that few others do.’ Do you think it’s important to be open with emotion? Why? 

I do; I think it’s the clearest path to love. 

Find out more about The Gunners