Friday, October 15, 2010
A Thousand Cuts by Simon Lelic is an outstanding piece of work. It is as direct and in-your-face as an edgy Broadway show, and as searing and unforgettable. In the aftermath of a school shooting, we learn about the basic goodness and humanity of the main character through her actions and by hearing townspeople answer questions she must have posed. At times I found myself imagining the staging--the author gave chapters to different voices, leaving out the questions and presenting only the answers. Though we are not explicitly told who is speaking in each chapter, we are drawn in until there is no doubt who the speaker can be. It is the marvelous lack of words, of explanations, that I like best in this novel. It felt like a completely new, fresh take on our favorite mystery series.
This is an especially timely novel, because it raises the problem of bullying--among kids in schools and among adults in their work environment. Life in a corporation was never so baldly drawn, and one can believe life in a public corporation like the police force would reflect some of the insanity it deals with daily. A lone voice speaks truth to power and we want to stand and cheer, nay, scream that we support her. The author increases the tension inexorably, even painfully, and we want to believe we would do the right thing. But the incivility--we know it is there--is all around us. How did we become so mean to one another? Wasn't education meant to lead to understanding?
The author chose a woman detective in an otherwise all-male police department to parallel the incidents being investigated in a school. Familiar elements of a police procedural remain, but they are so stripped down that they feel suggestions alone and we imagine rest, much like a modernistic Broadway stage. The effect is powerful and chilling in this author's hands, leaving us little comfort and much to fear. Echoes of Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre and Columbine by Dave Cullen came to mind as I read, but this book stands on its own as a marvelous achievement.