Ten years later, a school shooting in West Texas is revisited from the perspective of a family it changed forever.
What we know, what Eve Loving, her husband, Jed, and their son, Charlie, know, is this: a recent graduate named Hector Espina Jr. returned to the Bliss Township School campus the night of the homecoming dance, shot the drama teacher and three of the students who were rehearsing with him, ran into Oliver Loving in the hall and put a bullet in his head, and then committed suicide. What Oliver knows or doesn’t know is unclear, as he remains in a coma a decade later in a dismal facility devoted to hopeless cases. Is he locked into his paralyzed body, fully aware, or has he been gone ever since that November night? The narration of his memories leading up to the dance—which revolve around a crush on a classmate who walked away from the shooting unscathed—suggests that he’s in there, but the reader can’t be sure. The intervening decade has not been good to the town of Bliss or to any of the Lovings. The high school never reopened, and the town’s Latino population fled the wave of xenophobia that arose from the incident. Eve Loving has become a wasted, martyred woman who compulsively pulls out her eyelashes and shoplifts books and electronics as gifts for her son when he awakens. Jed and she are separated; he’s tumbled ever further into alcoholism, silence, and fruitless attempts at making art. Charlie Loving, 13 at the time of the tragedy, eventually gave up on trying to stanch his parents’ emotional wounds and fled to the East Coast, where he has been trying to write a book about his brother with no success at all. When a new MRI becomes available that may definitively resolve the question of Oliver’s consciousness, perhaps allowing him to communicate and give answers about what happened that night, it turns out that all the survivors have known, and buried, much more than they ever let on. Block (The Storm at the Door, 2011, etc.) has serious chops; he should trust the reader more, repeat and analyze a little less.
A topic both timely and timeless, psychologically astute and vividly rendered, with strong characters and a rich sense of place.