Everyone Here Has a Gun

Winner of the Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction


In a tightrope act of darkness and humor, fantasy and reality, the twelve stories in this award-winning collection describe characters searching for comfort and stability in a world that is ultimately too vast, violent, and incomprehensible. As they revert to what seems most simple and familiar—public transportation, television, museums, fairy tales—they discover only murder, displacement, fragmentation, and obsession.

In “The Running Legs and Other Stories,” Mary Beth attempts to recall a traumatic experience from her childhood, filtering it through children’s stories told by her “wicked” stepmother. In “Lincoln’s Face, A Resurrection,” an African American make-up artist struggles with concepts of history as she transforms a former lover into Abraham Lincoln. The young narrator in “Under the World” grieves for his parents by losing himself in a worldwide subway system. And in the title story, the speaker describes a small room where everyone armed with a single gun waits with dread and anticipation for the inevitable first shot.

Anton Chekhov famously noted that if a story introduces a gun in the first act, that gun must go off by the third. Yet while weapons are often present in Southworth’s stories, they are rarely fired, existing instead as a constant reminder of the power people can have over each other and the violent potential of narrative itself.

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