It has been one year since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Having grown up 20 minutes south, with family members connected to teachers and victims alike, I have a difficult but incessant interest with what happened on December 14, 2012. No book can answer the question we all need to have answered when it comes to mass violence such as what was committed that day. How do we make sure that this will never happen again?
Even with all the information released by the police (the State’s Attorney in charge of the case is someone I grew up with) in the last week or so, that answer, if it exists at all, is still far from being determined. Matthew Lysiak, a New York Daily News reporter who moved to Newtown in the wake of the shootings to live there and get the story behind the horrors, tries to answer that question, and so many more, in NEWTOWN: An American Tragedy.
Like the plethora of books that lined bookstore shelves after 9/11, the scent of death still pervades, and the sense of weirdness one feels about having any lingering interest in reading the details of that nightmarish morning and its aftermath masks the public’s hungry thirst for information. Steering clear of all the strange and horrible conspiracy theories that abound on the Internet in regards to the incident, Lysiak takes the reader quietly from moment to moment, from the mornings of those who lost their lives that day to the formidable efforts made in their memory by the family that the children and teachers left behind. Knowing what the children had for breakfast or the streamlined and thoughtful pursuit of victims by Adam Lanza through the school’s halls doesn’t make the fact that it happened any less heartbreaking and resoundingly difficult.
NEWTOWN has no pictures, since photos of the crime scene have not been released. Lysiak is a tabloid journalist; he doesn’t gussy up the situation and create poetry out of the madness and sadness. Instead, he gives you emotionally wrenching information without cowtowing to the type of response usually expected in the relaying of such experiences: maudlin, God-ridden text that makes everything you are reading about even worse.
This is a document. A document of one horrific day and what comes after it. One horrific day and what came before it. The Connecticut governor’s touching speech, President Obama’s carefully uttered words of solace, the testimonials of parents and teachers and Newtown residents, are all recorded here, factually, just the way they were spoken last year. But it’s after all the documentation that the book actually becomes something that might intrigue a random reader who doesn’t want to relive the tragedy itself.
The end of the book is both a “what if” about Nancy Lanza and her parenting skills, which is somewhat tawdry and doesn’t serve a definitive purpose since it’s all conjecture, and a “what now,” in which people who are supposed to know how these things work comment and develop theories of their own on the future impact of these senseless killings. Psychologists discuss violence in our society, and eventually the real message of NEWTOWN is clear: it is up to America and each and every American to decide whether or not this is going to happen again.
As a parent who also loves this country, I hope that we all will continue in dialogue towards a more peaceful and respectful place, discussions not bogged down in constitutional politics but filled with the earnest yearnings of human beings who only want to live together in peace and harmony. In that, NEWTOWN carries with it a positive gift during this holiday season, darkened by the specter of all those lives lost just one year ago.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano