Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Events of October Reading Response

This book was fascinating to me both as a reader and as someone looking to perfect their craft.  I found myself unable to put The Events of October down and I read it in two marathon sessions even though I was a little sick to my stomach. It's pretty easy to alienate the reader when writing about something as awful as a murder-suicide, but Gail managed to tell the story in a manner that demanded my attention. Perhaps this is because the voice of the book is so passionate that it practically forces the reader to pay attention.

One reason I found this book so compelling is it's Middlemarch-like qualities. Gail gives George Eliot/Marian Evans a shout-out early-on, and her influence is pretty easy to see. Kalamazoo College is a lot like the town Middlemarch, in a way: it's a small, cloistered community where everyone knows everyone. And, like Middlemarch, The Events of October is chiefly concerned with the idea of community as a group that changes through constant interaction.

Furthermore, both books are careful to depict the members of their respective communities with great sympathy. Just as Eliot dives into the motives of every character in order to present them in a sympathetic light, Gail eschews judgment in favor of understanding, preferring to explain each subject's motivations. For instance, it would have been very easy to demonize Neenef's friends for their insistence upon a memorial for Neenef. However, the narration makes it clear that this is simply a natural by-product of their grief and trauma. Similarly, it would be easy to ridicule those who preferred to think of the murder-suicide as an isolated incident rather than a femicide indicative of a greater trend of male violence. Instead, Gail tells the reader that compartmentalizing such a traumatic event makes coping easier. Thus, we do not judge these people, even their viewpoint is somewhat pernicious.

This level of sympathy and empathy is quite impressive, and it's indicative of an immense amount of time spent getting to know subjects. We get the sense that the author really knows these people; thus, all of her assertions about motives seem completely valid because they stem from such a deep understanding of the subject. This is a journalistic standard to live up to.

I also thought of Nicholas Lemann's piece in Telling True Stories regarding the "idea track" of a piece of nonfiction. This book's idea track is apparent throughout, and there are lots of excellent "marriage moments." It really serves as a model for lining ideas up with experience.

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