Sun Pony Ranch

Diary of novice (clueless) ranch owners

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A 'Why Dun It'

A few days ago I was discussing a new book I'd just started reading. It was one I've been anticipating for a year or so. Not because I'm a big fan of the topic, for in fact I was somewhat nervous about the topic. No, I've been acquainted with the author for about 3 years and it's been really interesting to see the publishing world from the author's point of view. It's his first book, and anytime we talked about it he was so effusive I couldn't help but await publication with great anticipation.

The book is "Columbine" - the culmination of Dave Cullen's years of studying the tragedy, what lead up to it and the aftermath it spawned. Later this month is the 10th year anniversary. When the question was posed - why wait 10 years to publish the book? Dave laughed and confessed it was a LOT of information to assimilate. He chuckled, saying how especially exciting it was to get a book contract. And then extend for a year. And then another year... But then he grows introspective and admits that frankly, the story was still developing. It took years for much of the evidence to be released, during which time the drama of the aftershocks was still in much fluctuation. It was in conjunction with the 5th anniversary, 2004, that the psychological / psychiatric evaluation results were published. The killer's journals released in 2006. The permanent memorial wasn't completed until 2007.

Anyways, I was discussing the book, admitting that I hadn't know what to expect. It's a volatile topic, one I wasn't sure I was eager to dive back into. Living in Boulder at the time I don't recall ever trying to follow the story - but it permeated our lives for a very long time. I do remember the moment when I heard the breaking news.

There is a very large cast of characters -- the high school had 2000 students. Add to that the families, faculty, media, community members and law enforcement that are all intimately intertwined. Without thinking, I'd said it was a heck of a Who Dun It. Except, of course, we know exactly WHO, and yet the story Dave weaves remains spell binding. That conundrum puzzled me. Until, at the book signing I attended in Boulder last night, Dave said that he'd aimed to write -- "certainly not a Who Done It, but a How Dun It; a Why Dun It." Yes, exactly, that's it.

Dave focuses on a few dozen central characters and presents an incredibly personal view of events from their different perspectives. What is becoming one of my favorite lines of the book:

Mr. D had one major objective on Friday; Eric Harris had at least two. Mr. D wanted to impress on his kids the importance of wise choices. He wanted everyone back alive on Monday. Eric wanted ammo and a date for prom night.

Mr. D is the well loved principle of Columbine who, the Friday before before Prom, gave the students a pep-rally talk about not drinking and driving. The attacks happened the following Tuesday. The passage continues:

Eric and Dylan planned to be dead shortly after the weekend, but Friday night they had a little work to do: one last shift at Blackjack {a pizza delivery joint}. ... "Once I graduate, I think I'm gonna quit too," Eric told a friend who'd quit the week before. "But not now. When I graduate I'm going to get a job that's better for my future." He was lying. He had no intention of graduating.

Dylan had a bright future. He was heading to college, of course. Several schools had accepted him, and he and his dad had just visited Tucson. ... The decision was final; his mom was going to mail the deposit to the U of Ariz on Monday.

Throughout the book Dave masterfully intersperses chapters from the killers' backgrounds, leading up to the attack, with stories of the victims, survivors and the ongoing investigation. Beyond any other impression, I was so taken with how smoothly it reads. For some very uncomfortable scenes, never the less I could not put the book down. (I do recommend having tissues handy)

I managed to finish a mere 15 minutes before the book signing -- LOL. I was surprised, I guess, to find that most of the people who attended had not yet read it -- well, not the ones who asked questions at least. ;-) The book focuses a lot on the myths that were set into place very quickly, and which have been so pervasive several are still prevalent even though they have long since been disproved. For example that Eric and Dylan were social outcasts, taking out their vengeance upon those who had bullied them. Quite simply, nothing could be further from the truth -- and yet I think that was the very first question posed from the group.

One thing really got me at the signing -- I had not anticipated that Dave would bring his photocopies of Eric and Dylan's journals. These documents obviously play a huge role in the book, and it was incredibly erie to thumb through the pages and pages of hand written notes and drawings. Dave's copies were highlighted and dog eared, so it was easy to flip through and find the many sections that he's quoted or discussed in the book. It gave me chills.

The story is horrific, heartbreaking, and maddening. The book is seamless, clear, and a comprehensive view never before presented.

An Essay Dave wrote on writing the book.



Blogger KittyHawk said...

Your review sums up perfectly the tension I felt between dreading to read about the subject and then being drawn in by the beautiful writing. It really is a remarkable, memorable book, isn't it?

4/11/09, 8:51 AM  
Blogger Monica said...

It really is, KittyHawk! And I know you were involved in helping Dave produce it - you should be proud too.

4/11/09, 9:30 AM  

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