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A Thousand Cuts: A Novel

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  • Posted October 15, 2010

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    I Also Recommend:

    Very timely novel by a new literary star

    A Thousand Cuts by Simon Lelic is an outstanding piece of work. It is as direct and in-your-face as an edgy Broadway show, and as searing and unforgettable. In the aftermath of a school shooting, we learn about the basic goodness and humanity of the main character through her actions and by hearing townspeople answer questions she must have posed. At times I found myself imagining the staging--the author gave chapters to different voices, leaving out the questions and presenting only the answers. Though we are not explicitly told who is speaking in each chapter, we are drawn in until there is no doubt who the speaker can be. It is the marvelous lack of words, of explanations, that I like best in this novel. It felt like a completely new, fresh take on our favorite mystery series. This is an especially timely novel, because it raises the problem of bullying--among kids in schools and among adults in their work environment. Life in a corporation was never so baldly drawn, and one can believe life in a public corporation like the police force would reflect some of the insanity it deals with daily. A lone voice speaks truth to power and we want to stand and cheer, nay, scream that we support her. The author increases the tension inexorably, even painfully, and we want to believe we would do the right thing. But the incivility--we know it is there--is all around us. How did we become so mean to one another? Wasn't education meant to lead to understanding? The author chose a woman detective in an otherwise all-male police department to parallel the incidents being investigated in a school. Familiar elements of a police procedural remain, but they are so stripped down that they feel suggestions alone and we imagine rest, much like a modernistic Broadway stage. The effect is powerful and chilling in this author's hands, leaving us little comfort and much to fear. Echoes of Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre and Columbine by Dave Cullen came to mind as I read, but this book stands on its own as a marvelous achievement.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 12, 2010

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    Timely and Thought Provoking

    "Why was the onus always on the weak when it was the strong that had the liberty to act? Why were the weak obliged to be so brave when the strong had license to behave like such cowards?"

    So asks DI Lucia May in A Thousand Cuts (originally published in the UK under the title Rupture), the debut novel from author Simon Lelic. May is the detective charged with investigating the seemingly open and shut case of a shooting at a North London comprehensive school (the equivalent of an American public high school) that leaves five dead, including the gunman. The investigation that unfolds is not so much a whodunit as a whydunit, as it is clear from the outset that the shooter was one of the school's teachers, Samuel Szajkowski, who opened fire during a school assembly killing three students and a fellow teacher before turning the gun on himself.

    Szajkowski, a young man new to both teaching and the school, is described by students and faculty alike as having been somewhat of a misfit, odd and aloof, who never quite found his footing at the school. This, however, does not seem to DI May to be sufficient explanation for Szajkowski's murderous outburst, and her interviews with students and faculty indeed uncover a truth which is much more sinister.

    Lelic reveals the events which led up to the shooting through chapters that alternate between DI May's first person perspective and monologues from various people - students, parents, faculty - involved with and affected by the tragedy. The monologues are meant to represent transcriptions of interviews taped by DI May during the course of her investigation, but they omit May's side of the conversation. It's an interesting technique, one which lets the reader imagine what was said by May to elicit certain responses, to feel almost as though they were the one asking the questions.

    Unfortunately, they are questions which neither the school's headmaster nor May's boss seem to want asked, let alone answered. Szajkowski, it turns out, was the victim of bullying from both students and teachers, bullying which slowly escalated from merely verbal disrespect and defiance, to malicious pranks, and finally outright physical violence. And Szajkowski wasn't the only one. DI May learns that bullying seems to have become endemic at the school, and that only a few days before the shooting a student had been attacked and beaten so viciously that he ended up in the hospital.

    Throughout the course of the story Lelic presents an interesting juxtaposition of the bullying occurring at the school with sexual harassment being experienced by DI May in her CID unit, where she is the lone female member. And just as the school's headmaster was willing to turn a blind eye to the bullying within the halls of his school in order to maintain the school's positive public perception, May's boss seems equally willing to take an 'it's not my problem, it will sort itself out' approach to the increasingly aggressive and hostile treatment May is receiving in the squad room. And it's the question of precisely how repeated bullying and harassment, left unchecked, sorts itself out which is explored by Lelic through Szajkowski's and May's stories.

    A Thousand Cuts is both timely and thought provoking.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 16, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A Few Cuts Too Many

    With some great writing, this debut novel is receiving some attention. It focuses on a police officer investigating bullying at a school, including a revenge shooting by a teacher that kills several. The investigating officer herself is being bullied at her police station. In her case, as well as at the school, administrators turn a blind eye to the bullying. The author rotates between straight prose when discussing the officer, and then chapters where the witnesses are interviewed and the tape of their statement is present verbatim, eliminating the interrogator's questions and comments. That takes some getting used to, but eventually I admired the author's ability to make each statement individual and real. Ultimately I think he overplayed his hand on the bullying until I myself felt a bit beaten over the head with it. The officer's final actions with one of the student victims is simply over the top, and the ending unsatisfactory.

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