Thursday, April 19, 2007

A sadly topical subject

Jodi Picoult is building a reputation for commercial books which deal with difficult and emotional subjects. She is often considered to have a good sense of the topical issues of the day. Her latest book 'Nineteen Minutes' is just out in hardback in the UK (published today according to Amazon.) Its subject is...a high school massacre. You couldn't get much more topical than that in the week of the terrible shootings at Virginia Tech.

I was thinking of writing about what might lead a young person to commit such a crime, but I am no psychologist. There just seem to be a few possible clues...a lonely young man with no friends and few social skills. Gun laws which allowed him to easily purchase weapons, even though he had allegedly been a mental health service user in the past, and pro-gun comments that there might have been less bloodshed if students and teachers were all able to carry guns on campus to defend themselves. A society in which the South Korean perpetrator, Cho Seung-hui, was described by the police as a 'registered alien', even though he had lived in the USA for most of his life and was fluent in English. His history of disturbed, violent writing, even though the concerns of his teachers seem to have gone unheeded.

I think anyone who has been to university or college will have known of people who seemed alienated in this way, who just didn't fit in. How can anyone predict which might be the one who will prove to be a risk to self or others, or who will have a total breakdown? I remember, as a second year student, listening to the music of the young man in the next door room, who was sitting his final exams. He played one tune over and over, the 'Theme from MASH' (Suicide is painless....). Thankfully he didn't do anything about it.

PS Since I am old, it was actually the original I heard, this TV theme not the Manic Street Preachers, but their version is so much cooler!


Yvonne said...

I know what you mean, there was a girl living next door to me at uni who was very depressed and anti-social - we tried to help her but she could be very aggressive. Luckily she got through it ok. Plenty of people display depressed and anti-social characteristics, doesn't mean they are going to go on a murderous rampage. I hope the other students who knew him don't blame themselves.

Cathy said...

I was touched by the young student interviewed on the BBC who had been a room-mate. You could just see his fear as he realised that he could so easily have been a first victim.

Jackie Luben said...

'We need to talk about Kevin', the fictional novel about a young man's massacre of his fellow students, takes a very interesting look at this whole topic. I think it asks the question was the boy strange and alienated from the beginning, or did some sort of rejection take place that made him behave like that. It's not a question that many people could answer, and I don't think even the psychologists have the answer in this latest case.

Cathy said...

Jackie, I have that book in my 'to be read' pile, but haven't been able to face it yet. I gater it is quite uncomfortable reading.