My interest in the topic of school shootings was piqued after doing research for the previous two posts, and I wondered about ordering books based on Columbine and its ilk from the library. Then, I remembered that my mother had one such book languishing on a shelf in the living room-the aforementioned “Nineteen Minutes”. I stole it from her like a thief in the night and dived right in.
One of the biggest rules every author must follow is “Never make up your insane murderers from scratch”. Hannibal Lecter was based on a guy Thomas Harris met on the wrong side of a set of bars in a Mexican prison. Buffalo Bill is a Frankentein’s monster, being patched together out of Ed Gein, the Green River Killer, and every outdated transsexual stereotype in existence. I was looking forward to seeing which Columbine shooter Ms. Picoult had gracelessly shoehorned into her work for personal profit.
A Note on the Author: Jodi Picoult makes her living by watching the Lifetime channel. Every book she writes has a plot so ridiculous, one’s suspension of disbelief is liable to snap due to the hypertension, yet she presents these situations as though they happen to everyone. Sometimes, however, she goes down the traditional route: she opens up a tabloid newspaper and takes down every headline she sees, then mixes them up to make them sound smart. That’s how she gets her synopses. Her stories are so freshly Ripped From the Headlines that blood sometimes leaks through the pages of certain first-edition copies.
[By the way, this is more of a sporking than a book review. Spoilers abound. You’re welcome.]
Here’s the cover:
“A book based on Columbine? Just slap a pic of two young broads holding hands on the cover. It’ll open up a whole new demographic.”
I got this image off jhseiss.com, but it’s not the version I have. Mine shows a small child sitting next to a butterfly in a jar. Either whoever does Picoult’s covers got mixed up with another cover for a misery memoir, or the author knows some truly dark secrets about Harris and Klebold-secrets that man is not meant to know. The lesbierotic cover on this edition seems to think that the shooters were slender, fragrant teen girls conducting a secret affair, which is way too horrifying on way too many levels.
The blurb of the book talks endlessly about “Lacy Houghton”, whose wayward progeny has just gone all Rambo on his high school, murdering nine students and one teacher, a victim profile which is awfully close to that of Columbine’s twelve students and one teacher. It promises to delve deep into her struggle to realize that she never knew her son. The story starts off with a person called Alex getting ready for work.
“As usual, Alex Cormier was running late.”
The hell is Alex Cormier? If that’s the question running through your head, don’t worry about it. She is surplus to the requirements. The only person that matters in this book is Shooter, the central character who sets the plot in motion. Quick, let’s go find them.
Nineteen pages later:
Well, that was some trek! Okay, let’s see. Is this kid Pseudo-Eric or Pseudo-Dylan? The introductory paragraph tends to give a lot of clues in these cases. Hmmm….
“….Peter Houghton was waking up.”
Congratulations, literature! It’s a boy! Which means, in the symbol-laden world of giving Columbine High School a different name, that the dominant influence is Eric. Generally, Dylan (the shooter popularly deemed to be the willing disciple) is cast as a girl-for example, in Uwe Boll’s “Heart of America: Homeroom” or the short online film “4/20/99”. But the fun doesn’t stop here. As a twin who absorbs their sibling in the womb will carry their DNA after birth, PeterEric may contain some traces of Dylan. Let us explore this text to look for clues.
“Two bodies lay unmoving at one end of the locker room. At the other….a slight boy crouched beside a bank of lockers. He wore wire-rimmed glasses….The boy pulled a pistol from beneath his thigh and held it up to his own head.”
Shooting self into the head instead of the mouth-classic Klebold. I like it. But glasses? Wire-rimmed ones?
….Kyle? But….I don’t understand. What could have driven you to this?
Interesting. This is new. Incorporating minor details of the innocent real-life victims into the murderer-it’s a nice metaphor. It’s still lazy, though.
After that little snippet, which informs us that PeterEric is small, skinny, and wears glasses, there’s a foreboding title on the next page entitled “Seventeen Years Before”, a flashback scene that lasts for an entire chapter. Sure, we could be getting to know PeterEric, and piecing together his possible motives. Or maybe, just this once, we could meet one of the victims, and experience their hopes, their dreams, their fears. But nope, we gotta go back in time for an unneccessay sequence in which the pregnancy of the aforementioned Alex Cormier is discussed in needless detail. By the time little Josie Cormier is rudely ushered into her role as a completely irrevelant main character, we know that her mother agonised over whether or not to keep her, we know that the midwife Lacy Houghton loves her job but feels chafed at home, and that PeterEric-the CENTRAL CHARACTER-had a soft spot on his head as a baby, just like every baby in existence ever.
The mid-section of the book can be condensed into a few simple sentences: PeterEric and Josie grow up together as best friends. PeterEric is bullied right from the moment he first sets foot on a school bus. PeterEric and Josie are torn apart by a fight between their mothers over Mrs. Houghton keeping guns in the house, but secretly remain friends. Then, Josie joins the popular crowd at school and abandons her childhood pal (who is still relentlessly bullied).
Sifting through this mess, I can see bits of the shooters winking up at me, like sentient cantaloupes. Dylan, for example, actually knew Rachel Scott from preschool onwards, which is interesting as Eric shot her during the massacre. Neither he nor Eric, however, were bullied particularly strenously.
But hark! PeterEric has entered the hormonal bloodbath of puberty! And what is this?
“When he was around Josie, he didn’t feel anything-didn’t want to kiss her or hold her hand or anything like that. He didn’t think he felt those things about guys, either, but surely you had to be gay or straight. You couldn’t be neither.”
You actually can be, Picoult. It’s called asexuality, and about one percent of the population identifies like that. But hey, let’s not quibble her ignorance-that’s for part three. Let’s focus on this exciting possibility-that PeterEric might bat for THE OTHER TEAM!
I can actually see the thinking behind this one. Two guys who never had girlfriends plan an elaborate murder-suicide pact for the guts of a year, excluding friends, family and possible love interests. They make a video which features them taking turns screaming at the viewer, ordering them to “leave that kid alone”. As they rampage about the school, they buoy each other up with war-whoops and high-fives. Then, when the fun has waned, they kill themselves, their bodies lying close together in bloody solidarity.
Stating it explicitly, however, is dicey. I speak from experience here-people do NOT like it when you mistakenly out their dead relatives on the Internet. (Jamie Doxtator, I am so, so sorry.) The real Eric may not be around to seek vengeance, but his parents and brothers sure as hell are.
Later on, PeterEric visits a gay bar, and it is hilarious.
“Peter stumbled, falling against someone sitting at the bar. ‘Whoa,’ the man said, and then his eyes lit up. ‘what have we here?’….
“‘My name’s Kurt,’ the man said, holding out his hand.”
Just for fun, close your eyes and pretend that the guy in the above snippet is Kurt Hummel from “Glee”. Then, take the phrase “eyes lit up” literally. That’s how I’m picturing this-Eric Harris being hit on at a gay bar by Kurt “Flaming” Hummel. It makes the whole bigoted mess a little less awful, and I will draw a picture of it and post it here someday.
Picoult lets this interesting plotline (interesting for some, at least. You know who you are) stagnate until a little sequence later on, where PeterEric and Josie the Shoehorn are stuck in a lift and decide to play Truth or Dare. PeterEric asks Shoehorn to kiss him. Shoehorn complies.
“He started to smile so wide it hurt. It wasn’t that he didn’t like girls; it was that there was only one right one.”
Nice save, Picoult. Nice save. And that’s why I call her Shoehorn-the author just shoved her in there and hoped the the Goddamn best. Y’know, I can think of better things to read than this book, from James Joyce’s Ullysses to a Dahmer fan story I came across one time where Jeff falls in love with a woman. (It was a highly unlikely scenario.)
Hold on, we got another cribbed-from-the-FBI-report bit coming up. Okay, so, PeterEric is at his trial, and the prosecutor is detailing his massacre bit by bit, in the kind of excruciating detail usually saved for gestation flashbacks in overhyped novels. Here’s what he did when he got to the cafeteria:
“‘Then, as the wounded were sobbing and dying all around him, do you know what Peter Houghton did? He sat down in the cafeteria and he had a bowl of Rice Krispies.'”
Rice Krispies: They Go Really Well With Death Rattles!
In Real Life, Eric Harris had only a glass of water when he and Dylan stopped off in the cafeteria. This makes sense, as the sprinklers were going off at the time and soggy cereal is just the worst. However, I can’t see why having your breakfast would be considered especially diabolical. It is, after all, the most important meal of the day.
The trial passage is quite fascinating, as it shows us how Eric/Dylan would have fared had they had their own. So far, PeterEric has had to swallow his own vomit, which is…eerily accurate.
What next? What next?
Ooh, ooh, ooh! Here’s something! This guy is Derek, PeterEric’s bestest friend. He’s more of a Brooks Brown than a Dylan Klebold,though. Okay, so PeterEric’s just after pulling into the carpark of Colum-sorry, Sterling High-and he’s run into Derek. Here’s what he says:
“‘He said, ‘Go home. Something’s about to happen’.”
Again, that’s more or less a direct quote of the conversation that Brooks Brown is meant to have had with Eric Harris as the latter sauntered past him at Ster-sorry, Columbine High-resplendant in his cowboy duster and trying to look casual as he lugged his Bumper Bag O’ Bombs behind him. I know that original teenage murderers are verboten in the world of literature, but this is just lazy. I’m half-expecting Picoult to forget her few small shreds of originality and slot in a bastardized Dylan Klebold before the book is out.
But seriously, where the heck is Dylan? You can’t blatantly profit from a national tragedy and not do some service to the guy who, in a way, had a hand in writing your paycheque. What did you do to him, Picoult?
“I know you don’t think of me
And you certainly would never picture us together….”
Oh, that’s cold. So this was Klebold’s fate: robbed of his ability to stalk girls with poetry and left to die alone by the roadside. You’re a monster, Jodi Picoult. Your blood is as cold as that of a bluefin tuna.
You see, ladies and gentlemen? Just as you can’t have light without shade, you can’t have shade without hidden furniture to bang your shin against. Dylan Klebold is that furniture.
Hold on, friends, we’re nearing the the end of this abomination. Here it comes. PeterEric HoughtonHarris is giving his big speech on the witness stand. He’s giving the reason for his crimes. This next sentence not only explains his motives, but also what the author thinks the motives were for Columbine. Ready yourselves….
“‘They started it….The bullies, the jocks….'”
Heh heh heh. Do you guys remember when everybody thought that Harris and Klebold were just plaid-wearing sweethearts that were provoked into murdering their heartless, bullying classmates, and then Dave Cullen came along and proved that they were just assholes? Those were the days, dudes.
Picoult’s reasoning is also something of a fallacy, because if it held water then everybody who ever got picked on would stage a massacre of their own. Why, if I applied that solution to my own life, then all of the people in my class at school would be dead by now! Alas, I must be content with bursting into tears at life’s unfairness, making death threats that they laught at mockingly, and desperately begging them to let my play “John Wayne Gacy Jr.” on my guitar at talent shows. They never do.
I….I need a moment.
Part II is coming soon!