How a Murderer is Made

It is Sunday here in Switzerland’s answer to Italy, and as mentioned last week there is little to do here, so I have taken great pleasure in indulging in a morning-long reading session, my first in quite a long time. I haven’t done much reading during the move for obvious reasons, and my transition back into reading wasn’t all that smooth; choosing to read books about serial killers that always seem to prey on women that live alone - not ideal at a time when you’re alone in a foreign country.

Anyway, I am back on track now and I have spent the whole morning reading the majority of A Mother’s Reckoning a book by Sue Klebold, the mother of one of the Columbine shooters, which came out earlier this week. As much as I was interested to read this, it took me a while to get over my initial unease that by reading it I was prying into someone’s personal pain. This is much the same feeling I get from listening to Serial, (but of course we all still do it).

My unease was lessened when I saw that all the proceeds from the book are going towards charities that support mental wellbeing, and the fact that this story was obviously something Klebold wanted to tell, and to have people listen to. It is obvious when reading the book that Klebold still desperately wants to give her side of the events; she literally begs people to understand. During the aftermath of the shootings, and when the whole world seemed to condemn her son as a monster, Klebold describes wanting to run up to people and show them pictures of him as a little boy, and explain that he was loved, and raised right. This book seems to have given her a chance of doing that, which she does while managing not to sound like she’s making excuses for him. One can hardly blame her for wanting not to be blamed anymore. I think it is overly simplistic to always ‘blame the parents’ after an horrific incident such as this, but it seems like Klebold has experienced her share of hatred and blame over these events; one can almost see her cowering as she writes, as she ‘dares’ to suggest that her son is, of course, a human being. Each chapter is full of caveats and disclaimers, such as “it might seem like I’m minimising the tragedy of all the other lives lost when I mourn my son, but I’m really not’ - not that you would ever dream of thinking such a thing about her by this point. It is obvious the sorrow and guilt she feels for the victims of her son’s actions, and she never shies away from that.

The finished, unflinchingly honest book covers the events of April 20th 1999, the aftermath, and of course the lead up, where Klebold wrings her hands and begs you to believe her that there was no warning signs that her son would one day decide to shoot his school friends and himself. I can believe it too, and I don’t recommend any parents read this book, as it will have you signing your child up for intense therapy sessions at the slightest show of moodiness. This is of course the problem with mental health issues, (or brain health issues as Klebold prefers to call them), that the symptoms can quite often go unrecognised as normal ups and downs. And don’t forget how secretive teenagers can be, if they don’t want to reveal something, you won’t get it out of them with anything short of torture. Listening to the person who would know best, his mother, and accounting for bias, it really does seem like Dylan Klebold had a perfectly normal upbringing, but was having some issues dealing with his emotions and unfortunately went down the wrong path.

Despite the gruesome subject matter, the whole thing is told in such a beautiful, heart wrenching way, it is very hard not to get involved with the writer’s own emotional state while reading it, (especially reading it in one large chunk like I did). Klebold describes how her writing has been an outlet for her in the past, where she would process her feelings, and you can see this throughout the book. Despite the occasionally incoherent writing, and repeating of stories and facts, Klebold is obviously very adept at writing and I’m fully willing to believe that she did not use a ghost writer.

While it would be easy to hook readers in with the shocking details of what her son did, Klebold does the right thing and focuses more on the lessons to be learnt from the event, promoting mental health and suicide prevention awareness, than on the details of the day. It’s a stunningly written book, describing as best as one can the feelings of utter shock and bewilderment, of being demonised and attacked, and of personal loss. Feelings, despite the rarity of this particular situation, that are universal and relatable, making this book a way of really connecting with this mother who once felt so alone.

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