book review: How To Be Safe by Tom McAllister



HOW TO BE SAFE by Tom McAllister
Liveright, 2018


I think this was supposed to be droll and ironic but I honestly just found it obnoxious. From the fact that every paragraph ends in some kind of pithy aphorism of the author’s making, Tom McAllister clearly thinks he has something to say in this novel. Unfortunately that ‘something’ rarely amounted to anything more than “The idea of hiding underground for a few years until everything got better was appealing. That’s why groundhogs looked so happy.”

The central concept is a salient one and one that hits close to home – that you’re never truly safe in a society with lax gun restrictions, and suffice to say that as an American living in 2018, gun control is something I feel extremely strongly about. But there is nothing worthwhile in this book that actively contributes to that conversation, this has nothing to offer aside from being topical. This reads as a 200-something page indictment of modern gun laws; no plot, no character development, no commentary that actually forces the reader to consider anything in a new light. No comedy that actually hits its mark, no hard-hitting moments to punctuate the tedium. I’m sure you all know by now that unlikable characters (unlikable female characters in particular) make for some of my all-time favorite protagonists, but it’s like the character of Anna was constructed just to be as abhorrent as possible with no other goal in mind. I also found the constant commentary on womanhood to be incredibly disingenuous coming from a male author, when half of the statements rang false anyway. I’m just not sure why McAllister purports to have the authority to let us know that “Women can wound each other in ways men can never imagine.”

Also, full disclosure here – I listened to the audiobook which is never my favorite format, and the narrator sounding like a telephone operator didn’t help matters. But whatever the driving force behind my dislike was, I just found this to be a waste of time.

15 thoughts on “book review: How To Be Safe by Tom McAllister

  1. I also sometimes like really unlikable narrators, if they’re done well (an example of a book like this that I read recently and thought was excellent was “The Dinner” by Herman Koch.) That said, there’s not much good to say about a protagonist who is just awful for the sake of being awful. I’m still slightly interested in reading this book (though it’s certainly not on the top of my priority list) and maybe I’ll see more value in it that you did; if you’d like I’ll tell you what I think if I read it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ooh I’ve been meaning to read The Dinner, I’m glad you enjoyed that! There is so much that can be achieved with a well-written unlikable narrator; especially with female characters I find it fascinating (and infuriating) how obsessed we are with their likability, while we can embrace vile male characters like Humbert Humbert as long as they’re adequately complex. But when a character is awful solely for the sake of shocking the reader, it’s just lazy writing. I’d definitely love to hear your thoughts on this one! I don’t know very many other people who’ve read it but Goodreads ratings tend to be very polarized. I’ll be interested to see what you make of it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve always found that was the case too with unlikable female characters, I think Skyler White from “Breaking Bad” is a pretty good example. I never actually finished the series (even though I think it’s great) but even though I don’t like Skyler, I think it’s really weird how people tend to justify her husband’s sociopathic actions while absolutely trashing her character for being a ‘cunt.’ I heard that the actress Anna Gunn got some death and rape threats because people hated her character. Can you imagine Brian Cranston getting a rape threat? ‘Hey, Walter White’s an asshole, so we’re gonna rape you?’ I don’t know why society works that way, but I totally agree with you. 🙂


  2. […] 3. How To Be Safe by Tom McAlister.  I understand what this pro-gun-control satire was attempting but my god was it obnoxious.  McAlister seemed so proud of himself for writing this book in the first place he didn’t extend any effort toward plot or character development, and it resulted in something as tedious as it was poorly written.  Also the audiobook was terrible.  Full review here. […]


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