What It Feels Like to Be a Bomb

Deborah Baker

  • BuyThe Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan
    Chatto, 288 pp, £12.99, July 2016, ISBN 978 0 7011 8260 1

I have a friend whose son was killed in a school shooting. A smallish school shooting. It took place seven years before Columbine got Americans used to the practice of not thinking about guns. To understand how it happened, my friend sought out surviving witnesses, the gun shop owner who sold the gun, the dean of the college where the shooting took place, and the shooter’s devastated parents. He questioned them as if they were characters in a suspense story, each with a partial view of the events leading up to the fatal day and the unfolding of the spree itself. Certain details hung in the air – the bullet that killed his son first broke the toothbrush in his shirt pocket – but no detail, however arresting, could alter the trajectory that had left this man and his family in stunned derangement. Finally, he bought a gun just like the one the shooter used, a Chinese knock-off of an AK47. He kept it behind a ceiling panel in his office so that he could take it out to study, as if the narrative logic of chance and fate might be hidden in its triggering machinery. Grief is a specific kind of madness; terror is another. Both are story-driven.

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