If We Had Known

 

Elise Juska’s fifth novel, If We Had Known, is a spare and elegant novel about characters as they live in the aftermath of a mass shooting in a mall. What’s most interesting about this story is that aside from the mother of the shooter, most of the characters only knew the killer or any of his victims from a distance. The central character is a teacher who once had the shooter in a class, four years before the shooting. She saw the student twice a week for fourteen weeks, and finds herself at the center or the unfolding turmoil. Another character, a former classmate, remembers a strange paper the shooter once wrote. Another character had her hair styled by one of the victims. What Juska does is show the ripples as they fan out from the shooting. She mostly avoids the perhaps more sensational stories of eye-witnesses to the violence or the more interior stories of grief from the victims’ loved ones. The novel’s power lies in the way Juska reveals the truly devastating effects not only for the victims of these shootings but for entire communities. One of the most viscerally related storylines centers around the daughter of the teacher. A young woman on the cusp of her college career, she’s already prone to anxiety and an eating disorder. Her struggles to maintain a sense of herself while studying, dating, dealing with social media, societal pressures, are all amplified by the swirling debris flowing outward from the shooting. Juska’s fifth novel is a powerful piece of work on many levels, and it should resonate with readers no matter where they stand on the issues concerning the proliferation of guns in America. The novel doesn’t demand any particular political stance from its readers. It only asks us to consider the aftermath of the all-too-frequent mass-shootings. In that regard, it could be the most important book you read all year.

 

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On leave. Writing.

I’ll be disabling the Instagram photos that appear on this blog. I’ll be posting more updates about writing and creative subjects. These next six months will be the first really dedicated writing time I’ve had in my life. Stay tuned for details. This is my writing desk (although I’ll write anywhere) and my cat Lucy likes to support me, and my screen while I work.

Ruins

 

Each time he thought he was

finished, he was only at the beginning.

all of the people stood in a big

crowd waiting for the names

of the things and the names

for themselves and the names

that would help them understand

their own thinking

one man stood along the black

terrace and shouted, mercy, oh,

mercy, again and again

then cities

and boats

and neon

and prayer

and hands

it was crowded with words

and the people had no idea

what any of the words meant

they became a blanket woven

by a blind man, an empty

courtyard, an abandoned theater

a gathering of leaves,

cows, athletes, empty

baskets, totems, crusades,

invisible and visible chaos,

all of the words and the names

flew up and away

the people stood on the bridges,

mountains, concrete oceans

weeping, laughing, lusting,

they scraped away the old soil

to see the bones of the old cities

a man climbed into a tunnel,

a man was buried, an infant

came as foretold, the water

covered the fields, the cities

disappeared, a star died, a new

revolution changed the end of time,

when he woke, he was standing

next to a white bench

on which were perched

a stack of books

with empty pages

he was alone

in a white field

he could not remember

any of what had come

before, he was neither

new nor old

there were no names

and he wondered how

to begin

We said goodbye to Paul B. tonight at 3:51 AM. Friend, mentor, spiritual guide, sponsor, power of example, maybe the realest person I’ve ever met. His death was profound and peaceful. I felt honored to be there. When we left the hospital, @tattoo55 and I drove to the beach to see the sunrise. All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses.

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