A Thousand Cuts by Simon Lelic

A_Thousand_Cuts ★★★★½
A Thousand Cuts (originally titled Rupture in the UK)
A Novel by Simon Lelic
2010 / 305 Pages

The Setup: In this riveting debut novel about sexism, bullying, and the horrific effects of random acts of violence, Detective Inspector Lucia May investigates a school shooting in which a teacher has killed three pupils, another teacher, and then himself-a tragedy that could not have been predicted. It should be an open and- shut case. Yet as Lucia begins to piece together the testimonies of the various witnesses, an uglier and more complex picture emerges, calling into question the innocence of others. Brilliantly interweaving the witnesses’ accounts with Lucia’s own perspective, A Thousand Cuts is a narrative tour de force from a formidable new voice in fiction. (from Goodreads)

A Thousand Cuts, or Rupture as it’s known in the United Kingdom, is the stunning debut novel from author Simon Lelic which documents the investigation that follows a fictitious school shooting in which a faculty member walks into an assembly and opens fire, killing three students and one teacher before turning the weapon on himself.

The story switches back and forth between first person accounts of the events leading up to the tragedy and the present day investigation by Lucia May, the lead detective on the case. The novel is an interesting entry in the school shooting genre and a highly enjoyable (as enjoyable as something of this nature can be) study of modern day bullying at all levels, from child to adult, and how we as society deal with the issue, or more often then not, don’t, due to fear of being the object of harassment ourselves.

Let’s face it, school sucks. It doesn’t matter if you’re a jock, a nerd, a cheerleader, a slut, or voted the most likely to succeed. At some point you’ve played the part of not only the victim, but also the bully. It seems there’s always someone lower on the food chain to pick on, but what happens when you finally scrape the bottom of the barrel? What if the person waiting there is ill-equipped to handle to constant barrage of harassment slung their way?

Now leave the school setting behind and enter adulthood. Did things really get that much better or is the daily grind of work, family, and friends basically structured in much the same way? How much time do you spend bitching and whining about your co-workers? What about that one friend who you keep around just because their life is so messed up that it makes you feel a little better about your own existence? Do you still get bullied? Do you bully others? Do you ever manipulate situations until you get the result you desire? It seems we carry the lessons we learn at young age, both good and bad, forward into our adult lives and later we pass them down to our own children to begin the same cycle anew.

A Thousand Cuts is unique in that, yes, it’s a book about a school shooting, but no, it’s not perpetrated by a student, but rather a teacher. If that’s not one hell of a heinous act of betrayal then I don’t know what is. Still, somehow over the course of the novel Lelic makes the teacher in question, one Samuel Szajkowski, both relatable and sympathetic. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a killer who committed an unforgivable act, but as the investigation unfolds it becomes clear that the entire horrific event could have been easily prevented.

Szajkowski is a teacher that’s the victim of bullying and discrimination, not at the hands of his students, but rather by his peers, grown adults who should all know better. He may have been the one to eventually pull the trigger, but believe me, there’s plenty of blame to go around, and in this situation it can’t be dismissed by placing at the feet of those all too convenient scapegoats: the 24 hour news media, suggestive movies, and ultra violent video games.

Within the pages of A Thousand Cuts, Simon Lelic takes an already fascinating topic and turns it on its ear, forcing the reader to look inward and ask some difficult questions about both themselves and those with whom they choose to befriend. If the only way we can truly grow as individuals is to learn compassion for one another, then the author has provided us with a startling roadmap with regards to one possible outcome of what can happen when we don’t.


About Aaron Westerman

Aaron Westerman is the Manager of Web Architecture for a national human services organization. When he's not busy tearing sites apart and rebuilding them, he spends his ever shrinking free time trying to keep up with his twins, reading works of translated literature, and watching far too many Oscar nominated movies.