Archive for May, 2010

A Thousand Cuts

Friday, May 21st, 2010

By Simon Lelic

The Short Take:

Lelic has built a masterful book around the insidiousness of bullying in modern society. Revolving around a tragic school shooting, with a teacher as the gunman, it holds up a mirror to our collective tendency to accept easy answers instead of responsibility. It can be painful to read at times, but that’s as it should be.


There’s a lot of misery in this book: both as the cause and effect of the school shooting and on the part of the investigator tasked with closing the case as quickly and cleanly as possible. While the story unfolds in a truly fascinating way, it’s like being fascinated by a deadly dangerous snake. One line in particular sums up much of this novel’s message: “Why were the weak obliged to be so brave when the strong had license to behave like such cowards?”

Chapters alternate between forwarding the narrative and presenting witness statements recorded by the chief investigator, a woman herself bullied at work. Lelic does a good job of capturing the immediacy of the recorded interviews as well as the different voices of the subjects. In fact, I was so put off by the first chapter, with the mindless mental wanderings of a student cutting class, that I considered giving this book a pass. Actually that was just a first taste of the distinct personalities yet to come: the preening PE teacher, the gossipy secretary, the bewildered parents of a beaten child, and many more.

Though not an actual mystery (there’s no doubt who did it) this book slowly pulls back one veil after another to give you the full picture. And, even though the propelling action took place before the book starts, it still builds to a dramatic climax.

Reading A Thousand Cuts may make you cringe at time, because haven’t we all stood by at least once when bullying took place? But it may make you act differently the next time. And, if enough people read it, it could change countless lives for the better.

A Little Plot:

A quiet and socially awkward history teacher, Samuel Szajkowski, walks into a school assembly and guns down three students and another teacher before fatally shooting himself. Detective Inspector Lucia May uncovers disturbing things about the school and its attitude towards bullying during her investigation but is pressured to stick to the simple report the public — and her superiors — want.

At the same time, Lucia faces her own bully at work. Can she stand up to the forces against her? Should she?

I found a short interview of the writer on YouTube. If you’re interested, click here. Note that this book was called Rupture in England, where it was first published.


Sunday, May 16th, 2010

By Fernanda Ederstadt

The Short Take:

Life is messy and sweet and frustrating for the child (and teen) heroine of this enjoyable book. Eberstadt has brought the classic “journey of discovery” into the 21st century with style, substance, and outstanding readability.


I suspect most American parents will be outright shocked by the freedom of movement and lack of hands-on parenting Celia Bonnet, aka Rat, receives in Eberstadt’s book. I also suspect that’s the writer’s main point. There is certainly a huge contrast between the self-sufficient Rat and the weak and irritating, yet highly pampered, kid that appears late in this novel.

Rat could be seen as a coming of age book, but it does not follow the stereotypical sexual awakening path. Rat is both more subtle and more complex. Celia’s transformation is driven more by her brain than her body; and shaped just as much by her relationships with others as her own secret longings.

All in all this is a fascinating story with unexpected characters and their unexpected actions. I’m glad I got to meet Rat. We need more kids like her.

A Little Plot:

Rat is the product of a one-night stand between a beautiful bohemian French woman and an English artist. Her poverty, haphazard upbringing, and deep attachment to her erratic mother sound like a recipe for disaster. Nope. Rat accepts and loves her world, even when it brings what are at first unwelcome changes. But then one change brings danger to someone she loves and Rat begins to seriously think of her absent father as the rescuer she needs.

For more about Rat, Fernanda Eberstadt, and her other books, click here.


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May 2010