For such a terrible subject, it may seem odd to turn to novels for insight. But fiction writers often have a way of cutting through the chatter and hysteria to expose deeper underlying truths about our psychology, our society, our illnesses.
IF WE HAD KNOWN by Elise Juska takes us to a small town in rural Maine, where Maggie Daley, a single mother and English professor, learns that a former student of hers has shot four people at a mall. Then a post on social media claims that an essay he wrote in her class contained red flags. Is she responsible? In the growing media storm she must make choices that threaten not only her own well-being but her daughter’s as well.
“A tender, whip-smart meditation on the origins and aftermath of tragedy. Here Juska asks us an important and quietly devastating question: In what ways are we responsible to and for each other?” —Carmen Maria Machado, author of HER BODY AND OTHER PARTIES
“Well-written, realistic, and suspenseful to the point of dread.” --KIRKUS REVIEWS
Tom McAllister’s HOW TO BE SAFE similarly focuses on the aftermath of a mass shooting, and the main character is also an accused educator—but the novel takes a radically different tone than Juska’s. Protagonist Anna Crawford has a long history with abusive men. A heavy drinker, she’s sardonic and slightly mad herself. When the town’s mania subjects her to jeers, threats, and relentless judgment, Anna’s response amounts to a wild and piercing feminist howl. There are many moments of exquisite dark humor as the novel dissects the hypocrisy of America’s gun culture.
“McAllister delivers here a portrait of a nation vibrating with failure and humiliation.… The writing sears—and reminds us of literature’s power to fill a void that no amount of inhaling the vapors of Twitter will satisfy.” —Lauren Mechling, NEW YORK TIMES
“A blistering, Swiftian portrait of a nation that has lost its moral center, this book is compelling from start to finish. Enthusiastically recommended for fans of literary fiction, psychological drama, and dystopian fiction.” --LIBRARY JOURNAL
The event includes author readings, discussion, book signings, and refreshments. The location is the wonderful Penn Book Center, 34th & Sansom Streets in West Philly, adjacent to the University of Pennsylvania.