Thursday, June 28, 2012

Shooter, by Walter Dean Myers (2004)

Walter Dean Myers' Shooter is a multigenre work that takes a look at a fictional school shooting and events leading up to it. We don't actually witness the shooting happen, but learn about it after the fact from interviews, police reports, and a diary. School shootings has been a topic of film and novels ever since the horrible Columbine shootings of 1999, and school violence has become an increasingly greater problem ever since. It's no surprise that people are drawn to these kinds of stories, many of which focus on the character of the shooter or shooters. The media, of course, has its theories as to why these teens snap. Video games are to blame. Bullying. Bad parenting. We need to know why someone would go on a shooting rampage so we can prevent it from happening next time.

The story focuses on three characters, all students of Harrison County High School: Cameron Porter, Leonard Gray (Len), and Carla. Cameron, who was Len's best friend, is the main focus of the novel. We learn that Len was the shooter, and Cameron and Carla were also in the school at the time of the shooting. There were two deaths: Len's and another student's. The interviews are meant to shed light on the character of Len, but also of Cameron, because his participation is somewhat shady. Cameron is shy, a black kid. He and Len are both outsiders, but Len has a strangeness to him that seems to attract the attention of bullies. Len's troubled mind is apparently passed down from his father, though he didn't acquire his father's racism. One day Len's father took Len and Cameron out with his friends to do some shooting, and among the targets was a cardboard cut-out of Martin Luther King, Jr. Len treats it as a harmless joke, and Cameron tries to as well. He looked up to Len to the point that he wasn't able to realize something wasn't quite right with him.

I find that while the novel does some interesting things, it didn't work for me. It was too impassive and not very engaging. The main problem lies in the fact that Cameron isn't very interesting. We get the impression he's intelligent, but he doesn't say very much. At least one interviewer seems to believe he's holding back information, but I think he's just not very comfortable with the interview process. The one interview with Carla proves much more interesting, because she has personality. She's combative with the interviewers and she brings a lot of life to what was becoming a dull, repetitive affair. The second to last section of the novel, which is Len's diary, is also fascinating. Len uses a lot of clever, yet creepy, wordplay, and his language reveals a very troubled mind with a plan. We learn from his diary that he did have a purpose in carrying out his shooting, but I'll leave that for you to discover.

There is an emotional detachment in the way the novel unfolds. As the interviews focus solely on the words spoken by the interviewer and interviewee, we can only guess what it means when someone pauses, but there's no real emotional connection with the speaker. The news reports also add to the detachment, as well as the very final piece, which is cold in its finality. I believe Myers did this on purpose, however, to show how the dissection of tragic events removes their emotional impact. They become mere facts and figures, abstract ideas rather than a real thing with real weight. The purpose is to analyze and determine why such events happen, but Myers' goal is to point out that there aren't always easy answers to those questions. Maybe there are no answers at all. Sure, Len was an outsider and he was troubled, but so were Carla and Cameron, and they had no intention of harming anyone.

As a discussion piece for a book club or a classroom, I think this novel has a lot of potential. However, I would be hard-pressed to recommend it to a friend or family member. It's a very competent work, just not an entertaining one.

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