I’m sure that if I had finished this review, sooner or later I would have mentioned the book.
The phrase ‘adult bullying’ makes this problem sound like something official – something in league with adult-onset diabetes and adult acne and adult ADD and adult diapers. I’ve spent my entire adult life in schools, and I can tell you that there is nothing that separates adult bullying from the kinds of bullying kids do. It is in our capacity for cruelty that we never grow up. In my life, I have been the bully and the victim. I’ve been the bystander who defends the victim and I’ve been the bystander who tells the victim to just suck it up. More times than I’m proud of, I’ve been the bystander who did nothing. I’ve seen kids bully kids and kids bully adults and adults bully kids and adults bully other adults. The wires of bullying cross all social boundaries we construct. I have served on prep-school judicial committees that heard bullying cases. I have been part of the process of expelling bullies from school. For three years I studied martial arts at a school where we spent serious time discussing the psychology of violence and harassment and the endless ways that human beings assert dominance over one another. As a summer camp administrator, I once called a parent to discuss the fact that her son was being disciplined for bullying and heard her burst out laughing. “You don’t understand,” she said. “Our son has been bullied every school day of his life since the first grade. He’s in a new environment and he must have seen the opportunity to turn the tables and he grabbed it. Of course I don’t approve of it. Of course it’s not OK. But at the same time it’s just – ” she groped for words “– it’s just so, so wonderful.”
I’ve spent my whole life around bullies without ever coming to any conclusions. It’s as if I’ve earned a Ph.D in the subject of human cruelty without ever writing a dissertation.
Someday maybe you will finish the review? My curiosity is certainly whetted.
Probably not likely. In some cases (The Slap, for example), I remember the details well enough that I probably could finish the review, but with this book I would need to do some serious review, and I gave the book away before I left New England. It’s a British novel about an adult school shooting – a teacher who shoots up an assembly full of his students and colleagues. It’s told in a series of shifting points of view – detectives, surviving teachers and administrators, surviving students – and the purpose of the book is to uncover the reasons for his violence.