Sunday, April 28, 2013

Stereotypes ("Ten" by Gretchen McNeil)

Every reader has a tell--that one inner thought that shows up at some point during an especially awful book and announces, in its shrillest voice, what we dare not acknowledge out loud: every page after this one is going to be a chore rather than a pleasure--something you now have to do rather than something you want to do or get to do. You won't quit the book, obviously, because that's not what good readers do; not every book can be a gem, after all, and perhaps there will be something redeeming somewhere in its remaining chapters. Instead, you're going to hunker down with this thing, pessimism be damned, and get through it one chapter at a time, maybe even page by sluggish, tiring, frustrating page. And when you finish the book--a task that will take twice as long and be punctuated by the sudden, frequent need to get other things done around the house, maybe even things you've been putting off for weeks--you will have done so with a mind full of rage directed at the author, yes, but also at yourself for taking up the book to begin with. What a waste of time, you'll tell yourself, and you'll seek out a safe story, one written by an author you trust, to wash away what you just finished. For me, the tell is my sudden desire for characters to be killed off. Usually this thought occurs at the midway point, when one or more characters have worn out their welcome or stopped developing; in the case of Gretchen McNeil's Ten, however, I began wishing for swift and sudden homicides after about twenty pages. Thankfully, in what is perhaps the book's only redeeming quality, my wish was handily granted.

Ten is the story of ten teenagers who come together for a party and find themselves being killed off, one by one, while a vicious storm keeps them from getting help. (The party is held on an island, which they soon discover is yet another part of the killer's plan. Naturally.) As the night goes on, the teens increasingly begin to suspect one another, even as clues uncovered by one of them points to something much more sinister: the murders are payback for the bullying and suicide of a classmate named Claire Hicks, in which each of them had a part to play.* On the surface, this storyline has promise:  after it, it all but guarantees one surprise after another, as the characters will be forced to reveal information about themselves and their pasts while also trying--and probably failing--to survive a murderer who may also be a demonic spirit. Sadly, it's in these characters that the novel is faulty, and greatly so.

For starters--and there's just no nice way of saying this--not a single one of them is likable. Sure, part of the reason they've been gathered is because of how horribly they treated Claire, so expecting them to be fleshy buckets of integrity would be ridiculous. Plus, they're trapped together in a house fighting for their lives, so naturally they're going to be dominated by fear and paranoia; if they worked together like stable, reasonable people and thought about what was happening, putting the clues together and forming a responsible plan, there'd be no story to tell. No, they have to fall apart, and gloriously so...but even in stories of disorder like this one, there has to be someone--anyone--to be the voice of reason, where the reader can insert themselves into the story. Meg, the story's protagonist, is supposed to be that character. Unfortunately, she spends so much of her precious time consumed with puppy-dog love for TJ, another teen and the group's natural leader, that she becomes disposable; when most characters should be running in terror, if not for their own sake then at least for the safety and protection of their fellow teens, both she and TJ are instigating kissy-faced grope-a-thons, often mere feet from the rotting corpses of their former classmates. Meg plays it off--to herself, to us--as the natural reactions of someone in shock who feels their time running out, someone looking for comfort in times of monumental stress...but McNeil doesn't sell it as well as she should, so I don't buy it. Instead, I continued reading, hoping the next page would bring me relief from Meg's insufferable self-centeredness.

Sadly, she lives.

Secondly, and more worryingly, the characters are deeply stereotypical. Of the ten teenagers who find themselves trapped and victimized on the island, one is an Asian girl who--we soon learn--is on the receiving end of the murderer's wrath because she is an especially high-achieving and grades-focused student. TJ, the protagonist's crush, is an African-American jock--the quarterback, no less--who seems to have dated half of the girls in high school and is notoriously well-endowed. There's the protagonist's needy best friend, whose bipolar medication is stolen and spends most of the book hysterical; Vivian, the bitchy control freak; Kenny, an overweight boy with a heart of gold; and so on. On their own, these stereotypes probably wouldn't be as offensive as they could be; however, because these characters are already so deeply unlikable, it becomes a matter of why they're so unlikable, and when an author focuses on gender, ethnicity, and physical appearance, those traits become inextricably linked. Suddenly, we see these characters' terrible attitudes and decisions through the prisms of their race and gender, which is exactly what creates stereotypes in the first place. And while it may seem like I'm reading too much into this, it should be noted that within the first fifty pages, the characters themselves discuss the racist comments of another teen at the party through themselves and their ethnicities.

And then there's Claire Hicks. The girl who is at the heart of this story--a bullied teenager, an outcast--is depicted as dark-haired, silent, and brooding. McNeil is trying to show us that Claire was different, an outsider, that she didn't fit in...and to do this, she falls back on the age-old "goth teen" stereotype of the loner in who is quietly brewing in her own anger. This stereotype grew in popularity after Columbine, and that very image of teenagedom has been used so frequently by writers, filmmakers, and politicians alike to personify the "dangerous" and "disturbed" adolescent that they've become a cultural boogeyman of sorts. (This is made all the worse in the book by a closing revelation about Claire, in which we learn that she was, in fact, a vengeful and disturbed girl.) In perpetuating this stereotype, McNeil does so with harm. After all, her book is intended for younger audiences and therefore populates the shelves of high-school libraries across the country, including the one in which I myself work. Students who dress and act like Claire Hicks are already stigmatized by our culture, not to mention the culture of high school, which demands conformity more than it accepts uniqueness, and by reinforcing this negative image--this boogeyman--McNeil is quite literally misleading those readers of hers who might take this book at more than face value. Sure, their inner thoughts may tell them the characters are nonsense, just as it told me...but wouldn't it be nice if the author would just save us the trouble?

*Actually, we soon learn that this isn't quite true. In fact, by the end of the book, it seems that the involvement of these ten was limited, if not totally nonexistent.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The "Escape From Furnace" Series by Alexander Gordon Smith

In 2004, the year I graduated from high school, "young adult" was a wishy-washy label attached haphazardly to all sorts of books, the most popular being Harry Potter, that were, yes, geared towards younger audiences but were also clean and slightly patronizing. Sure, Harry Potter learned some valuable life lessons, faced down seemingly invincible foes, and grew as both a wizard and a person--what teenager can't relate to that in some way?--but overall the books in that series, as well as most others published at the time, were pretty inoffensive; if you weren't a complete idiot who read too much into wizardry, Harry's journey was almost quaint in a way, like a bedtime story expanded over a few thousand pages. Rowling's series was all the rage when I was in high school, and while the subject matter didn't appeal to me, I gave the first book a shot: I read it in a few days, thought it was a perfectly acceptable story, and never read the rest of the series, content that my prejudgments about "young adult" or teen-oriented literature were accurate.*

Five years later, I found myself standing in front of teenagers eight hours a day, five days a week, attempting to teach them some of the "serious" literature I so enjoyed when I was their age. Sometimes I succeeded, more often than not I failed...but a source of pride that first year was my avoidance of anything "young adult." So patronizing, I told myself, writing down to teenagers. I thought it was disrespectful to my students--all those authors writing in a certain style about certain topics that were appealing to some stereotypical 16-year-old out there somewhere; they should be reading books by adults, for adults, because that's what they were destined to be. That image of "young adult" that was so thoroughly welded to my brain as a teenager wouldn't come undone, even as student after student talked about their newest book with such wide-eyed enthusiasm. The books they read--for pleasure, not for assignment--were about dating, drug abuse, car chases, demons, zombies, possessions and exorcisms, sci-fi adventures, and on and on. I was caught a little off-guard, and I had a choice: adapt, or be stuck in the past with my strange book prejudices.

Eventually, they wore me down, and I began reading so-called "young adult" books. At first there were one or two, checked out skeptically and with a little embarrassment from the local library, and soon there were much so that by my fourth year as a teacher, I was reading books that were either recommended to me by students or presented through book reports and projects and sounded too interesting to pass up. They were different, well-written, and mature in their own ways--not patronizing, but clear, straightforward, and driven almost exclusively by plot instead of meaning or academic ambiguity. The authors knew their audience and what they wanted to read, which made the stories all the more enjoyable; for someone whose love of reading had been thoroughly debased by five years of constant undergrad analysis and literary theory, it was like being led out of a prison from which I could've escaped at any time.

This inevitably brought me to Alexander Gordon Smith's Escape From Furnace series, which I began reading in December of last year and finished this past week, April 2013. What began as a simple, albeit strange and ominous story of a young boy--Alex Sawyer--who is falsely arrested and imprisoned in the titular hellhole, Furnace, became over five books the fascinating, horrifying, and consistently surprising story of Sawyer's transformation--physically, mentally, emotionally--into something far more than the skinny hoodlum he began as. There's very little I can do review-wise to explain what makes Smith's series such a good read, other than to just list the reasons one by one.

1. It's Honest. Life sometimes sucks. It's a fact teenagers know all too well and adults are too willing to forget. Their own experiences are shrouded by embarrassment and faded by time, and they dismiss the problems of adolescence as little more than the complaints of lazy whiners who don't understand dedication, hard work, and perseverance. But life does suck, undeniably so at times and never more clearly--or unfairly--than during those teen years when adults lecture on and on about preparing their kids for "the real world" without actually ceding any sort of real freedom or responsibility. Sawyer's experiences are beyond anything the average teenager would have to face--by the end of the series, he's literally a Frankenstein's monster, a shell of what he used to be--but he still faces adults who take advantage of his sub-status in society, manipulate him emotionally, judge him by his mistakes, refuse to trust him, and so on. He takes on leadership roles to the point that, by the fifth book, he has become the entire world's one and only savior...and afterwards, in a fantastic epilogue, earns the trust and respect of every adult he encounters. Yes, life sucks--and being a teenager doubly sucks--but Smith shows his readers that, at the end of the road, there is freedom from it all.

2. It's Graphic. J.K. Rowling...Lemony Snicket...Christopher Paolini...not a single one of them would have ever even considered including one-tenth of the graphic elements Smith includes in his book. These range from scenes of torture, vivisection, Frankenstein-style dismembering and reassemblies, and cross-species transformations to murder, visceral to-the-death fight scenes, decapitations, bombings, immolations, and near cannibalism. And Smith writes them with an increasingly normalcy to his style, which is perhaps the most unnerving aspect to the whole thing. By the fifth book, this is the world Sawyer lives in now, and he's used to we should be, too. Because, after all, we live in a world that is just as hideous and dispassionate towards others, and it's important for everyone, even teenagers and "impressionable" young people, to understand this: there are people out there who are violent, vengeful, and downright evil, and they do unspeakable things to other people. The key is not to avoid these things; the key is to acknowledge that they exist, resist the immediate gut reactions that say "turn away" or "this doesn't concern you," and decide how it can be stopped, how it can be prevented, how it affects even those of us who live half a world away from it. We cannot keep these events hidden in the shadows, like a mutated young boy in a below-ground prison; they must come to the light, and with it, the solution. Otherwise, we will face the consequences of our ignorance and inaction.

3. It's Surprising. Can't kill off main characters in a book? Smith begs to disagree. It's almost unnerving how willingly Smith dispenses with his characters, even those who have been with Sawyer since the beginning. In a way, it's refreshingly honest--see #1 above--and also the way a good story should be told: without predictability, willing to do what the reader doesn't expect--maybe even what the reader doesn't want--for the sake of advancing the plot, forcing the characters to adapt and grow, and building the tension in search of a thundering climax. Any shock I felt over Sawyer's torture and transformation--becoming the Frankenstein's monster--was quickly overpowered by a dozen more shocking moments in the book...related to their escape, to the nectar, to London itself and the plague, to the Warden, to Albert Furnace. I finished one book, thought about how the next book would most likely proceed--based on cliches and little else--and was happily proven wrong every time, and almost always from the first two or three chapters.

4. It's Hopeful. As one of my students said to me, "It ends with one of the best speeches about hope in all the books I've read." I don't disagree, but it's not just the closing speech in Smith's fifth book that offers hope to the readers--it's the entire series. By the closing pages of Execution, Alex Sawyer has endured more heartbreak, torture, violence, hatred, isolation, war, and death than...well, just about anyone. (This is a sci-fi book, after all.) There are more than a few moments where he turns himself over to the darker side of his nature, often far past the point of no return, and still he comes back. He remembers his friends, his name, his parents, the mistakes he's made, and the journey he's endured...and all of it gives him strength when virtually the entire world is against him. It's a clear message that, even at the lowest points in your life, when everything and everyone around you seems to be working against you, when you feel like something other than the good and decent person you are--maybe even when you feel like a failure, a loner, a freak, a monster--you have the strength and attitude to rise above it.

5. It Doesn't Talk Down. Alex Sawyer is a teenager, beginning to end, but other than the stupid decisions he makes that get him in trouble in the first place--mistakes that, honestly, can be made by anyone, regardless of age--he doesn't talk or act stereotypically. Had Smith interrupted the story at any point and written passages intended to lecture or teach a message--moments of the author banging his message on the heads of his readers--all would have been lost. But when Smith feels the need to do this, he has his characters embody these epiphanies--slowly, quietly, almost like a sunrise coming over them and warming their faces. And more often than not, we see them coming, too, sometimes from miles away, but still we wait for Alex to realize them with anticipation: it's yet another turn in the story, another chance for this transformed young man to grow by yet another small degree. Sawyer is allowed to be a full character--a person--rather than a soapbox spouting cliches or words of wisdom. And really, that's what "young adult" literature is: not literature for "young adults," no, because that would be patronizing; rather, it's about all the little changes we undergo when we're young--the everyday triumphs, the moments of understanding and overcoming, the failures and lessons that come with failing, the leaving behind of who we once were and gradual becoming of who we need to be--and how those changes never truly leave us. We all become adults one day, but by keeping the memories and lessons with us, constantly reminding ourselves of where we came from, we stay young.

*Even as a teenager I was a lit snob, my locker filled with books by Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, and Jerzy Kosinski.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Out ("What's Wrong with Homosexuality?" by John Corvino)

[John Corvino's What's Wrong With Homosexuality? is a short, concise book that debunks the most prevalent and misguided arguments against gay rights and gay marriage in modern American society, including its affects on children (there are none), the lack of similar same-sex attractions in nature (there are tons), and gay marriage as a gateway to society's moral collapse (ridiculous). Corvino, a philosophy professor, writes with a clear and often personal voice about why the arguments against gay rights have very little substance. In perhaps the book's most personal moment, Corvino discusses his own coming out story and how moments such as those can have the greatest effect at changing people's minds on this issue. In lieu of reviewing Corvino's book, which overall is very good, I offer my own story.]

I came out to my parents on a Sunday, in a moment I'd planned the entire weekend around. It was something I should've done years before--after all, I'd known since I was 12, thanks in part to a random Internet pop-up ad (long story) and an obsession with reruns of The Golden Girls that my family accepted but did not quite understand--but didn't for a myriad of reasons, the greatest of which being a complete lack of faith in my parents. I didn't know how they'd react, and gay rights--or for that matter gay people--was a topic I never heard either of them mention once, even in passing. Had they taken a stand in any direction--they were fine with gay people, they hated gay people, they didn't care one way or the other--I would've at least known was I was up against, what to brace myself for. Instead, there was total silence on this issue. And it was in that silence that I spent years falling apart--emotionally, physically, spiritually--until I decided once and for all that the only way I could save myself and be truly happy was to come out to them, the two people who raised me, the two people who I loved more than anyone else (and who loved me just as much). I needed to do this in order to be a stronger, better, healthier person, whether my parents accepted me or not. And so it was decided:  I would visit my parents, come out, and be done with it.

I don't remember how the conversation began--I didn't look right, I remember my mother saying at some point, like there was something bothering me. I told her it was true, there most definitely was something on my mind...but I choked on my words and didn't go any further, didn't elaborate. Ever the worrywart, my mother began to rattle off a litany of possible tragedies that could've befallen her firstborn son--fired from my job, an accident, a health scare--a list I assume she runs through constantly like some sort of protective-mom memory game. I denied that my problem was any of those possibilities, and before she could say any more, I blurted it out--two very simple, one-syllable words, tossed out with the same speed and dispassion of someone ripping off a Band-Aid. There was no great relief like I thought there'd be, no metaphorical or metaphysical weight lifted from my shoulders...but it was done, over, resolved. There was no going back, no erasing the words--the proverbial ball was in their court. I waited for them to respond, to say or do anything that let me know, finally, how they felt.

They said nothing.

To be honest, this was not entirely unexpected. My parents are and always have been quiet people, their emotions kept close to their chests. I have countless memories of them sitting around the kitchen table saying absolutely nothing to one another for hours at a time as they paid bills, read the newspaper, or looked over their children's homework...and being perfectly content doing so. It's not because they're sad, lonely, bored, or uninteresting people--they just don't see the need to talk that much, and strangely it's one of the few traits I inherited from them. So the pall of silence that fell over the three of us in that moment wasn't unusual, and it was more of a relief than anything else: they reacted to my news in the same way they reacted to all news, so at least what I'd said hadn't shaken them into immediate verbal hysterics.

Then my dad spoke. "Just because you don't like women," he said, "doesn't mean you're gay."

Now this was unexpected. Looking back now, it's more funny than anything else--after all, not liking women, and thereby liking men, is what makes me gay, totally and obviously. It's also a clear indication of how little my dad understood about gay people or gay issues in general, which I'd never considered beforehand. Even at 12 and 13, long before I would even consider coming out to my parents, I was already immersed in what you might call gay-friendly culture...though at the time, I only knew it as something familiar and close, even if I couldn't put a name to it or explain why it was so comforting to me. Besides those reruns of The Golden Girls--I saw every one, and multiple times to boot--I also watched Match Game reruns solely for Charles Nelson Reilly, preferred baking and sewing to anything involving power-tools, and liked Madonna songs.* My father, on the other hand, was familiar with almost none of this. One of 6 kids who grew up on a small-town farm, my father played football and wrestled in high school, served in the military, watches Fox News, listens to talk radio, votes Republican, and has to my knowledge never willingly read a book; he spends what little free time he has working on his truck, riding his snowmobile, and doing random construction jobs around the the attached garage he built one summer single-handedly, after my mother complained about walking to her car on ice in winter. To say that my father is a skilled and talented man would be an understatement; to say my father knew a lot about gay people before I came out to him, however, would be an overstatement.

I realize this now, years after the fact; in the moment, however, I was horrified. Luckily, my mother was, too, and for the next few minutes they debated what it meant to be gay in front of their gay son...possibly one of the most surreal moments of my life. When that conversation--and, as it happened, the overall conversation--ended, I got in my car and drove back home, leaving them to discuss it among each other in their normally quiet home.

In the years that followed, not much else was said about my announcement--there was a question, asked by my mother over pizza, and a discussion between the two of them about whether or not Mitt Romney was a "bully" for cutting the hair of a gay classmate--but the news ultimately fell away into the chasm of silence where my parents stored all news, good or bad.

What I didn't understand or fully appreciate at the time, though, was that this one act on my part, done so deliberately to better my own life, had also done something for my parents. Even though they have never said anything more about my sexual orientation, the gulf that had always existed between us--because of my doubt, because of their silence--closed...not fully, but enough that we could now begin to see each other as the people we were and are. In the months afterwards, my dad and I spoke more easily and in more than just monosyllabic groans and with tortured shrugs. We joked around, usually about politics (and occasionally about my mother, who always seemed to overhear), talked about each other's jobs, and began biking and hiking with mom. And in maybe the most awkward moment of my life, he sat down with me and watched a Kathy Griffin stand-up routine on BRAVO--a noble attempt on his part to give "gay-friendly" TV a try and cross that divide between us, but after roughly 10 minutes of coarse, uncensored vagina jokes, we both silently realized there was a limit to that, as well.

It's only been in the years since, as I've read more and more about LGBT history and issues, and as the attention paid to those issues has gone mainstream, that I realize just how significant coming out to my parents was. Sure, they're only two people, and they may have not felt too strongly one way or the other to begin with--I've still never asked, and I don't plan to any time soon--but they're also my parents, they're good parents, and they had a right to know this important fact about their son, regardless of my own doubts and insecurities. And it's because so many other gay people feel this same way that public opinion on gay rights has begun to change; there are just as many gay people as there were decades and even centuries ago, but because we live in a more open society, people are starting to realize just how many gay people they know. They work with gay people, are friends with them, have gay sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers; they encounter gay people in their daily lives--as doctors, nurses, cashiers, bankers, teachers, soldiers, elected officials--and understand what they didn't before:  when you hate people for their sexual orientation, for who they love, you hate those closest to you. It's easy to hate a group of people when no one from that group is around; it's harder when they live openly in your community, and even harder still when they're your own flesh and blood.

That doesn't mean that people don't still try. Bullying is a major issue in schools, a vast majority of states and countries still don't have gay marriage, you can still lose your job in certain places because of your sexual orientation, and LGBT teens are still being abused and kicked out of their homes for who they are. And as much as I love and appreciate my parents, and as warm and accepting have been about me, there's still that small, nagging voice in the back of my head saying, "Just wait." I can't predict the future, even one involving my often predictable mother and father, but just being myself allows me to debunk people's expectations and preconceived notions. It's a small battle, often waged in living rooms and kitchens across the country--across generations--between a handful of people. But these battles are slowly being won, peacefully, and with the best of outcomes...and someday, hopefully soon, we will live in a society so progressive in its attitude towards gay rights and gay people that books like the ones written by John Corvino--a serious book that debunks seriously-held misconceptions about gay men and women--will seem like awful relics of an era that is long and thankfully gone.

*Thankfully, I am far less stereotypical as a gay adult, though not by much.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Outlaws ("Dead Run" by Dan Schultz)

               a. a horse that cannot be broken; a mean, intractable horse.
               b. any rogue animal.
                                              --fifth definition of "outlaw," Random House Dictionary

Dead Run, Dan Schultz's account of the Four Corners manhunt, which began in 1998 with the execution of an Arizona police officer named Dale Claxton and escalated into a fruitless ten-year search over hundreds of square miles, is really three books in one. At its heart is the forementioned manhunt, which involved not just multiple police precincts and Native American tribes but state agencies and even the FBI, all to capture three anti-government survivalists who stockpiled automatic and semi-automatic weapons in caches that, to this day, lie hidden throughout the American southwest. The manhunt, which should have ended after only a few hours, instead became an ongoing source of embarrassment and frustration to those involved, as inter-department conflicts, issues of overlapping control between sheriffs, and an overall unpreparedness brought the investigation to such a startling halt that the men were never captured alive.

The second story is one of geography and myth--namely, how that unique portion of the country, where four states come together in perfect right angles amid sweeping deserts, plunging canyons, and rolling hills, can make men into something more. This is, after all, the land of Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; this area of the country was borne on the sweat of cowboys and cattlemen, nurtured on the muscle of lawmen, and survives to this day on the blood of the rugged, rebellious individual. But where some find solace in the empty, lonesome expanse of desert--they live among their cattle, their few scant neighbors, and the sky, more than happy to be untroubled--others find refuge from influences they see as omnipotent, intrusive, and dangerous...namely, authority figures like local police, park rangers, and the federal government. This is an area where conspiracy theories have a greater foothold compared to almost anywhere else in the country, where outsiders in nice suits and locals in uniforms are viewed with a suspicion often tinged by paranoia and anger, and where many of these same people are surrounded by the very presence they abhor--wide swathes of federally-owned or federally-protected land. This mix--of the law and lawless--is what leads to the occasional explosion of violence like the one at the center of Schultz's book.

For the first half of Dead Run, Schultz jumps between these two stories, balancing their dichotomous subjects and evocations with ease; one chapter waxes prophetic on the romanticism of the southwest with flowery language and hollow cliches that run on endlessly, while the next chapter recounts in detached, reportorial detail how the three men went about executing Claxton after hijacking a water truck. It makes for an interesting if not disquieting read, one that promises depths of information and learned analysis. It's the third portion of Dead Run, however, that is problematic. Every so often, but increasingly as the book moves towards its close, Schultz interrupts details of the manhunt itself to offer hypotheses about how each of the three outlaws met their end--the police believed each committed suicide, while some of the officials who participated in the search aren't so sure--as well as hypotheses about whether there were more than just those three. On the surface, this seems expected--after all, with no police interrogations or journals from the fugitives to speak of, Schultz must speculate as to motives and the details of their long escape with what few details he has. But Schultz's speculations go beyond fact-based at times and, in rendering a hypothesis based on the details available, shows his hand: he doesn't believe in the suicides of at least two of the men, and the third he leaves open for debate, which makes his attempts at seeming unbiased all the more painful. (In one instance, Schultz constructs an entire, multi-page hypothetical scenario involving a "commando" who murders one of the fugitives. For the longest time, I was unsure whether Schultz intended this "commando" to be seen as one of the other fugitives or a law-enforcement official.)

Despite these missteps, Schultz does a service to the reader--and to those involved--by emphasizing how the resolution that should come with a closed case has not actually been achieved in this case. Yes, it may give comfort to the victims and communities to know the three men are dead, regardless of cause, but it doesn't give due diligence to history. Outlaws committing suicide in desperation is different than outlaws killing one another to save themselves, and both of those scenarios are much different than if they were killed by an officer, agent, or self-appointed executioner. As unsavory as the details may be, they're relevant to not only understand the men themselves--what drove them, what kept them on the run, how they survived, how their lives ended--but how an incident like this can be prevented from ever happening again. Men like those who committed the crime rely on conspiratorial groupthink to support their own paranoid delusions--beliefs nurtured by mishandled cases just like this one--and it does little good to give them yet another instance of those in power with something to hide, something more to tell that goes unexplored and untold, and it feeds the monsters of our society who, living for years in their lonely caves, decide to wander out one day and terrorize others. By refusing to resolve this case once and for all, the legacy of this tragedy becomes one of incompetence rather than one of mourning and resolve; in essence, we yield our history to the monsters.