Saturday, July 11, 2009

Columbine, by Dave Cullen

I just finished listening to the audio version of Columbine, by Dave Cullen, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Previously, people had believed certain myths about the tragedy, primarily, that Harris and Klebold were outsiders who attacked because they had been bullied and persecuted. In this work, Cullen debunks that myth and others, in part because he has had access to the crucial primary sources: the boys' diaries; the "basement tapes" in which they videotaped themselves in the weeks leading to the shootings; interviews with their friends and other students, and several survivors. The book thus presents an excellent, sad portrait of Eric's and Dylan's mental states as they worked themselves up to the act of committing mass murder. The boys, it seemed, were driven primarily by Eric, whom Cullen diagnoses (following the lead of FBI profilers and analysts) as a budding psychopath; Dylan was more prone, it seems, to suicide than mass murder, but he got swept along with Eric. The thing that was most powerful to me was how impossible it is to know anyone--even one's own children. Klebold's parents in particular (who have talked more to sources) appear as very kind, good people who were totally shocked and overwhelmed by their son's actions, and in the Harris family, Cullen traces a long series of diary entries from Eric's father that indicate the various disciplinary strategies and ideas they were implementing with him. Furthermore, the boys had had contact with various mental health and legal professionals. They should have been caught and stopped beforehand--this book definitely shows that--but I just don't think anyone (and Cullen shows this) was actually able to believe that these kids would really do what they did.

The book also traces the stories of several survivors and their parents; these tales are poignant as well because they demonstrate the complex relationship between grieving and anger, and also describe very convincingly just how hard it is to recover from trauma.

The reader of the audiobook, Don Leslie, has a commanding bass voice and he does a good job of rendering teen anger and angst and speech patterns. As always seems to happen with male readers, his voices for women sometimes climb into the falsetto and thus become grating, but Leslie is definitely a talented reader, and he made the audiobook quite compelling.

In conclusion, I'd just like to say, FIFTEEN GRAND SLAMS LOOKS GOOD ON YOU, ROGER:

1 comment:

  1. On Nov. 21, 2008, the Harris and Klebold parents were sent the same letter requesting cooperation. "Your stories have yet to be fully told, and I view your help as an issue of historical significance," it said. "In 10 years, there have been no major, mainstream books on Columbine. This will be the first, and it may be the only one." The letter came not from Mr. Cullen but from Jeff Kass, whose Columbine: A True Crime Story, published by the small Ghost Road Press, preceded Columbine by a couple of weeks.

    "Mr. Kass, whose tough account is made even sadder by the demise of The Rocky Mountain News in which his Columbine coverage appeared, has also delivered an intensive Columbine overview. Some of the issues he raises and information he digs up go unnoticed by Mr. Cullen." --Janet Maslin, New York Times

    "A decade after the most dramatic school massacre in American history, Jeff Kass applies his considerable reporting talents to exploring the mystery of how two teens could have planned and carried out such gruesome acts without their own family and best friends knowing about it. Actually, there were important clues, but they were missed or downgraded both by those who knew the boys best and by public officials who came in contact with them. An engrossing and cautionary tale for everyone who cares about how to prevent kids from going bad." -----Ted Gest, President, Criminal Justice Journalists