Listen All You Bullets tells the story of a young boy named Billy who is trapped on a hardscrabble North Dakota ranch with his lonely mother and his wheelchair-bound father. But Billy isn’t just any boy stuck on any ranch: Billy and his family are the creations of Jack Schaefer’s popular 1949 Western novel, Shane. Long after that novel’s action has concluded and its plot and characters have seemingly solidified into popular myth, Sean Johnston sets out to explore the possibilities of a story’s resistance to its own arrested afterlife. While the popular film and television renderings of Shane safely respect our expectations of the genre, Johnston’s playful and poetic novel disrupts boundaries, breaking through the surface to suggest new meanings. In the main thread of the novel, Billy’s family are visited by a travelling bookseller a year after the gunslinger Shane’s disappearance. A second thread follows a young Metis girl named Marie as she leaves her home in Saskatchewan in the 1930s. A third thread presents a sort of ideal reader who offers comments on the text in draft form many years later. Listen All You Bullets is about resistance, and the human impulse to hope in the midst of violence and distortion. It’s also about the fragility of both the material world we live in and the myths our lives are built upon. It is that rare kind of historical fiction that explores the complicity of the artist in the construction of popular history.
Sean Johnston is the author of The Ditch Was Lit Like This (Thistledown, 2011), All This Town Remembers (Gaspereau, 2006) and A Day Does Not Go By (Nightwood, 2002), which won the 2003 ReLit Award for short fiction. He lives in Kelowna, BC, where he co-edits Ryga: A Journal of Provocations and teaches at Okanagan College.
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