Thursday, March 30, 2017

A Mother's Reckoning

A Mother's Reckoning by Sue Klebold
Penguin/Random House: 2/7/17
trade paperback; 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9781101902776

A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold is a memoir of the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine killers.
"On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Over the course of minutes, they would kill twelve students and a teacher and wound twenty-four others before taking their own lives."

In the introduction Andrew Solomon states "The ultimate message of this book is terrifying: you may not know your own children, and, worse yet, your children may be unknowable to you."(pg. xvii) "Columbine was above all an ambush of unknowability, of horror hidden in plain sight." "Eric Harris appears to have been a homicidal psychopath, and Dylan Klebold, a suicidal depressive, and their disparate madnesses were each other's necessary condition."(xviii) Eric Harris wanted to kill and Dylan Klebold wanted to die. Dr. Dwayne Fuselier, a clinical psychologist and the supervisor in charge of the FBI team during the Columbine investigation said, "I believe Eric went to the school to kill people and didn't care if he died, while Dylan wanted to die and didn't care if others died as well." (pg 172)

Sue Klebold has had to live with her grief, questions, and public scrutiny since that day. In this memoir she explores her quest to understand her son's actions and if she could have done anything to prevent Columbine from happening.  Do not expect answers in this book. Klebold tells us in the Preface that she has been writing about what happened from the start because she needed to get her thoughts down on paper. That is where this memoir came from, a mother's thoughts about the inconceivable actions of her son. She is sure that she missed subtle signs of psychological deterioration in Dylan and could have prevented the killings and her son's suicide.

It is noted that: "All author profits from the book will be donated to research and to charitable organizations focusing on mental health issues." Klebold makes it clear that she is donating the profits to "organizations dedicated to suicide prevention, evidence based programs, and brain health research." (Klebold also prefers to use the term "brain health" instead of mental health. Even though she explained the source of this term on page 153, the repeated unending usage of it becomes extremely annoying.)

Ultimately this is a book about mental health, depression, and suicide prevention in teens. Klebold is sure that Dylan "was experiencing depression or another brain health crisis that contributed to his desire to die by suicide, and his desire to die played an intrinsic role in his participation in the massacre."(pg 152) She continues to say it is not an explanation of what he did, as many people with depression or other "brain health issues" are not dangerous to others, but she points out that  there is an "overlap between brain health issues and mass shooting." Her understanding of what lead Dylan to desire to commit suicide helped her understand what he had done.

After reading A Mother's Reckoning, I was left perplexed and uneasy. There are no answers, nor did I expect them, even though the title of the book implies that there will be answers, a reckoning. But how much objectivity did I really expect from the mother of a killer? I vividly remember the day Columbine happened and it was horrific. Klebold seems to  desire to deny some of her son's responsibility. She desperately wants to show how they were good parents and a normal family - and I believe her. The fact is, though, that both boys suffered from mental health issues.  Both are culpable for the killings. Both of them. But Klebold seems to want to push the greater share of the blame on Eric Harris.  It is awful that Dylan committed suicide, but he also killed people. Eric and Dylan both killed and then committed suicide.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the publisher/author via Library Thing.

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