The Prumont Method by Trevor J. Houser doesn’t gloss over the topic of gun violence or relegate it to the background to tell a different story. This novel, Houser’s second, places gun violence front and center, dropping the reader into the protagonist’s story with the opening line, “When did I predict my first mass shooting?” In short chapters that sometimes read as entries by a highly aware and darkly humorous diarist, Roger Prumont, creator of the Method, reveals in time that he has recently suffered marital difficulties, left his career in regional healthcare marketing, and drives around the country while he attempts to interpret the Method’s latest predictions before the next mass shooting. The Method is an enigmatic mathematical theorem of “thirty to forty-odd pages” predicting approximately when and where a mass shooting will occur within the United States. The exact operations of this method remained illusory to me as a reader which benefited the book in that I didn’t need to worry over how it worked to accept its role in the narrative. Prumont’s Method has come close before but got some details wrong, which haunts Roger and compels him to search for the missing pieces to a time-sensitive puzzle with the highest stakes. There’s also a subtle hint early on that Roger is dealing with a medical situation, bringing the consequences of waiting for clarity on the Method’s predictions to a personal level.
Roger approaches this new version of life post-broken home through numbers and patterns. The reader gets the sense he’s trying to calculate not only the next mass shooting but also how he got to the point of mixing cocktails and eating bad takeout food in motel rooms while trying to maintain his relationship with his daughter. The cocktail recipes are interspersed in the text: Roger is a person who likes to follow directions and a set of rules in hopes of obtaining a predicted result, like mixing the perfect drink. His drinking increases throughout the book, as does his desire to understand the Method’s latest prediction which carries more information than prior occurrences, including, for the first time, names. He enjoys life on the road, driving at night, and staying in motels and the “precision in their plainness.” He states facts on mathematicians, and on real-life shootings and shooter behavior, noting ironically that many shooters leave manifestoes or notes but “diaries are self-absorbed.” About the shootings and the information provided by his Method, and perhaps about life, he says, “There’s always a pattern.” This theme of data and numbers, trying to triangulate the moment, the before-and-after, when someone makes a key life choice, be it in a marriage or a shooter deciding to carry out a plan, is present throughout the novel. “How did I rediscover numbers?” Roger asks, referring to life after his career in marketing where he searched for the words to best influence customer behavior, how to manipulate outcomes with words, before he turned to numbers and data for the same purpose.
Under a different author’s hand, the topic of mass shootings in a story fronted by a jilted, unemployed narrator might have been too dark or, worse, made light of gun violence or reduced it to a plot device, but Houser avoids this by crafting an empathetic main character with a strong voice. The narrator’s insights on parenthood, marriage, and life and death in America are smart and humorous without being bitter. Driving across landlocked states, Roger observes that “for all the differences in this country, there’s an underlying sameness that only the constant traveler can’t help but notice.” Roger knows his story of loss isn’t wholly unique and that gun violence is in no way a unique occurrence in America. Of his own implications in his failed marriage and, one suspects, in his investment in finding the next mass shooting before it can happen, he says, “Victimhood has gradients. It’s never black-and-white.”
Houser’s organization of The Prumont Method in short chapters, dotted with the drink recipes and facts, makes for a quick read. The matter-of-factness of these details mixed with the reality of describing mass shootings and the victims of these horrors tempers an emotional response from the reader. Houser has assembled with these pieces a cohesive, touching, and clever narrative, with a relatable anti-hero, which is just as heartbreaking as it is funny.
Publisher: Unsolicited Press
Publication date: August 15, 2023
Reviewed by Suzy Eynon