You see, I read this book hoping to gain some insight into the mind of a school shooter. Someone like Kevin Khatchadourian, just not so inherently evil. I wanted this book to scare me, stun me, make me question, make me think, maybe break my heart a little.
What I did not want this book to do (and what it essentially did) was give me a long list of excuses for why this guy was walking around with a gun in his bag.
Now, I'm not trying to undermine the gravity of the situation here. Leonard has had a tough life; has endured some horrible things. He's depressed and lonely, he's been bullied, and I understand how difficult that is to get through. But isn't that true for a lot of teenagers?? Not everyone lugs a P-38 to school though. Shouldn't there be something more? Something in the way Leonard's mind works? Something to do with the person that Leonard is rather than the circumstances?
The narrative is designed to make you feel sorry for Leonard. I'm afraid that had quite the opposite effect on me - my empathy meter was stuck at zero. This is going to sound highly insensitive but I felt like Leonard was constantly appealing to the sensitive side of me - See how intelligent I am but nobody appreciates me? See how nice a person I am but nobody talks to me? See how profound my questions are but nobody gives a damn? See how none of my friends, and not even my mother, remember my birthday? Doesn't my life suck? Don't you feel sorry for me? Don't you? Don't you? - and all I could do was watch impassively, with the occasional annoyed eye-roll.
There are only a handful of characters other than Leonard but I cannot tell you anything remarkable about them except that they all seem a little extreme. As much as I hope teachers like Herr Silverman exist, he is almost too good to be true. Leonard's mother is way too absent; she has pretty much abandoned her only son and never bothers to return his messages. Asher Beal is... horrible, supposed to be hated. The whats-her-name that Leonard has a crush on is a little too obsessed with Christianity.
Leonard himself never became a real person in my eyes. At the best of times, he was nothing more than a string of adjectives, too different and too disjoint to go together.
Quick's writing is okay but the structure of the book impedes the flow. The footnotes are more like footessays - long, meandering recollections that make you forget you're reading a footnote until you're suddenly pulled back to the main narrative, following which it becomes necessary to re-read a few lines to grasp the context again. Then there are these "Letters from the Future" that, looking back, are probably some of the most poignant moments the book has to offer, but because Quick doesn't bother explaining their importance until it's too late, you read them only with a growing sense of bewilderment, wondering why you're suddenly in the middle of a post-apocalyptic water-world.
The only point where I felt some semblance of an emotional connection was the very last chapter. It's nothing remarkable, but there is this desperation there that really hit me. It was when I wondered if I had it all wrong. Maybe Leonard was never the "shooter" but just another depressed teenager who, tired of fighting the world, had come dangerously close to giving up altogether.
I don't know if I'd recommend this book. If you can empathize with Leonard then maybe you'll love it. I couldn't, so I didn't.
Forgive Me, Matthew Quick. I'm not impressed.
2 out of 5 stars