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A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold

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A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold

This isn’t the kind of book I would usually read. I am not someone who thrills to tales of real life violence; the True Crime section in the bookshop is of no interest to me and although I do read in-depth newspaper and magazine articles, I try to steer clear of sensationalist nonsense that seems to glamorise crime. There’s a ton of that crap about though, so clearly there’s an audience.

Sue Klebold is the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of two teens who murdered 13 people at Columbine High School in 1999. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris injured another 24 people, attempted to kill many more with home made bombs which failed to detonate, and committed suicide. I haven’t read anything beyond news reports at that time, did not want to read assumptions and theories about what happened, but was interested to hear that Sue Klebold had written a book and curious to know what she had to say. I imagined it would be a painful read, and I approached it with empathy – I am a mother of teens, I know our teens make choices that aren’t comfortable for us, but this horror is unimaginable and unbearable. There are those who squarely blame the parents  – how could they not have seen who their sons were? That’s not how I think, but how do you live with that anger against you, that level of blame? How do you endure when your son is revealed to be a hate filled murderer?

This book is Sue Klebold’s attempt to do something positive. She wants to alert people to the signs she missed in her own son (that he had “brain illness”, that he was depressed, bullied, at break point. She aligns herself with other mothers of kids who committed suicide, albeit murder-suicide, and speaks about how her son wanted to die. Unlike Eric Harris, who wanted to kill. There is a clear distinction.)

Sometimes people speak passionately and the words are vivid and maybe a little messy, but heartfelt, and other times, usually when professionals speak, each word has been carefully chosen and the delivery is dry and careful. This book is the latter. It reads as if lawyers have combed through it 1,000 times for anything potentially damaging. There is nothing here but a few descriptions of her son, meaningless to anyone except her family, a few anecdotes that present him as “normal”, a lot of scientific evidence of brain illness, and an avoidance of anything potentially controversial. The first few chapters describe her disbelief as the police turn up at her home immediately after the shootings. She has no access to news but bits filter through as she waits outside while the house is searched, enough that she understands her son was involved. She assumes he was an unwilling participant, or didn’t understand what was happening, or was in thrall to Eric Harris. But she won’t describe the actual events, or what it felt like to comprehend the truth.

There is a necessary need not to offer a template for others, but what is left is not a compelling read. It’s a terrible story, but we do not learn anything here and Klebold seems reluctant to go beaneath the surface. Perhaps she can’t, our minds protect us from unbearable things, but it makes me wonder why she wrote this.

The most valuable thing in the book is not written by her. In the introduction, Andrew Solomon says, “…we want to believe that parents create criminals because in supposing that, we reassure ourselves that in our own house, where we are not doing such wrong things, we do not risk this calamity. I am aware of this delusion, because it was mine…

I came away thinking that the psychopathy behind the Columbine massacre could emerge in anyone’s household. It would be impossible to predict or recognise; like a tsunami, it would make a mockery of all our preparations.”

Which is chilling, but feels true to me. There is a tipping point when our children, necessarily so, grow away from us and all we can do is hope the foundations we have laid hold them steady. We can’t be responsible for their actions. Klebold’s efforts to get more recognition and support for people suffering mental illness is admirable and I applaud her determination to use this awful notoriety she has to do something positive. I don’t think this is a good book though. There are a variety of assertions made – “We’ve all felt angry enough to fantasise about killing someone else.” Well, no, actually I haven’t. “Most of us can’t name a single celebrity who has struggled–successfully anyway–with depression or another mood disorder…” Erm, well actually I can… There’s an attempt to present Dylan Klebold as a “normal” teen but offers scant evidence of it and all the while we know that behind his mother’s back he was writing diaries planning his suicide, filming vitriolic segments with Eric Harris, playing with guns, getting into trouble with the police.

Why would we want to judge Sue Klebold? Why would we need to? I hope she finds a peace in her activism and support. But this is a book review and this book is not great.

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SMASH LITS WITH NIK PERRING

This is Nik Perring –

NikPerringWORDS2

and this is his new book –

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Published by Roastbooks it’s gorgeous and different. It looks like a children’s picture alphabet book, except A is not for Apple, it’s for Appalachian, and F is not for Frog, but Fuck. Each word has been collected by Nik because he finds it beautiful in some way. Through his descriptions of the words we glimpse a relationship between Alexander and Lucy. It’s really a lovely book to give someone (or to treat yourself to).

Rightio, it’s time for the questions:

1) Have you ever seen a ghost?

Actually, I think I have. He was in my bedroom one night, looking through my drawers. He was slim and middle-aged – greying hair and in a baggy red sweater. I looked at him, he looked at me, and then he stood, walked through the bottom of my bed and out through the wall. He ignored me when I said, ‘Hello,’ and that’s just rude.

2) Do you know anyone named Tarquin?

Sadly not. It is a fine name.

3) Do you believe in life after love? 

I think I have to.

4) What are the 3 ugliest words?

Prejudice, because of what it means. Religion, because of what it does. And ugly, because of how it makes people feel.

5) Who is your favourite Neighbours character?

I don’t think I’ve seen an episode since I was in my early teens. I always liked Beth though.

6) Where do you go in your dreams?

Everywhere. Nowhere’s off limits.

7)  What is your favourite word?

Normally I’d have said something like ‘love’ or ‘trust’ but I’m going to go with one that’s in the book, and that is ‘ineludible’. Lovely, isn’t it?

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8) How much money did you spend yesterday?

Yesterday, I bought:

Ginger root – £1.

1 x packet of blue Pall Mall – £6.25.

1 x bottle of Lucozade (for my mum, she wasn’t feeling well) £1.99

And about £15’s worth of beer in the pub. (It was Beautiful Words’ publication day so I celebrated a little.)

TOTAL £24.24

9) Do flowers scream when you pick them?

Of course they do. Roald Dahl says so.

10) Can you make up a poem about tonic?

She was drinking gin and tonic

while reading a rather long comic

when the comic was done

she fell on her bum

and now her problem is chronic

(That’s brilliant!)

11) Do you have a favourite pen?

I have two Pelikan M200s which I’ve used for years. All my first drafts are written longhand so a good pen, so my wrist doesn’t get knackered, is important. It also, particularly pretentiously, makes me feel like I’m getting that little bit closer to the words. Practically, it’s good because whatever I’ve written gets a half-edit while I’m typing it up.

12) Are you more likely to make a souffle, do the ironing, or clean the toilet?

I do like to cook, but I’ve never done a souffle. Cleaning the bathroom is a necessary evil. So, ironing it is then.

13) Who is your writer crush?

Anne Sexton. Though there are a few whose stories still make me swoon: Aimee Bender, Michael Kimball, Etkar Keret, Marie-Helene Bertino, Lorrie Moore, Angela Readman. And Sara Crowley, of course.

(Smooth!)

14) Have you ever had a nickname? (Nik name haha) What?

Ha! Not really. I was Pez for a little while in school. And Cola-Bottle (as in the sweets) because I was thin and dark. Nik works much, much better, don’t you think?

15) Bacon VS Tofu. Who wins?

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I’m a reluctant non-veggie (is that a bit like conscious uncoupling??) so tofu.

16) Would you rather be a bee or a wasp?

A bee, without question. Wasps are evil.

17) You are wallpaper, what is your pattern?

Whatever The Yellow Wallpaper was. (If you’ve not read it, you should. It’s wonderful.)

(I have read it. That’s a really interesting answer.)

18) How do you organise your bookshelves?

Ha ha ha ha ha!

19) Up or down?

Down, looking up.

20) What is your favourite cheese?

Actually, I can’t eat cheese because it gives me migraines (actually one of the reasons I’m not a fully committed veggie). Alexander likes cheese in Beautiful Words and, because it’s a pretty word, his favourite is Roulade. (That is a cheese, isn’t it?)

 

Thanks, Nik. I wish you lots of success with Beautiful Words. If anyone wants to know more about Nik here is his blurby stuff:

Nik Perring is a short story writer and author from the UK. His stories have been published in many fine places both in the UK and abroad, in print and online. They’ve been used on High School distance learning courses in the US, printed on fliers, and recorded for radio. Nik is the author of the children’s book, I Met a Roman Last Night, What Did You Do? (EPS, 2006); the short story collection, Not So Perfect (Roastbooks 2010); and he’s the co-author of Freaks! (The Friday Project/HarperCollins, 2012). His online home is www.nikperring.com and he’s on Twitter as @nikperring