September 1, 1999.
A father transforms the attempt to fathom his son’s senseless murder into a complex, surprising account of memory and discovery amid dark American corners of insanity, gun violence, and malfeasance.
Gibson’s staid life as an antiquarian bookseller was demolished by the death of his 18-year-old son, Galen., in a 1992 mass shooting at Simon’s Rock College by student Wayne Lo. With the school uncommunicative, his family lost to grief, and their civil suit against the college stalemated, he descended into drinking, dark fantasy, and loosed moorings, then ultimately righted himself by embarking upon a (vehicular) “walkabout” in an effort to understand Galen’s death. This results in a meandering narrative in which Gibson’s propulsive loss is leavened by wry humor and increasing awareness of his situation’s contemporary singular absurdity. He explores Lo’s path to murder, the ramifications of firearms availability, and the role of the college, law enforcement and psychology in the case’s disposition, always with startling, engrossing results. Though his family’s heartbreak at Galen’s loss makes for tough reading, it’s to Gibson’s credit as a debut author that his rangy prose and concise aggregate of observation draws one in thoroughly. Rarely maudlin, his book resonates with the paradoxical relationship between fathers and sons and the harder-edged interactions among today’s confused, rigidly bohemian youth. And his attempts to comprehend the terrible enigma of Wayne Lo are also invaluable, given that Lo’s act is practically a template for the mass shootings that have become a pox upon the nation.Yet there’s another dark story here: an instance in which present-day hesitancies toward judgement and action result in a catastrophic institutional failure. Gibson finds numerous ways in which college officials thwarted security personnel and missed opportunities to interrupt Lo in his weapon acquisition. (After years of insurance-company wrangling, an undisclosed settlement was reached.)
This book should be seriously considered by education professionals, as well as by violence survivors who might benefit from Gibson’s singular odyssey.