The Events of October by Gail Griffin
I could not put this book down. Although I disliked the writing style—I'm not a big fan of flowery language and the passive voice, especially in nonfiction—Gail Griffin organized the pieces in such a way that I found myself immediately drawn in. Her decision to place the murder-suicide in the middle of the book initially had me confused about how she would fill the rest of the novel. This excellent organizational choice, however, allowed the novel to really become a narrative about the widespread effects of the murder on campus. Griffin told this story through an impressive array of outside input, interviewing Wardle's friends as well as Neenef's. She showed the spectrum of student responses and also discussed the administrative nightmares involved in the aftermath, a part of the story I would not have considered. The way Griffin portrayed the president of the College allowed me to feel what she did during the ordeal—a combination of anger and respect.
Griffin treats Neenef and his friends with surprising but necessary sympathy. She lets his friends express their grieving process, which they found complicated by his role in the event. I feel as if Griffin anticipated the reader's response, or perhaps wanted to reflect what seemed to be the response of many campus members; while she eventually brings the issue to its larger societal implications, she first brings us through the process of deconstructing the entire situation. While clearly presenting the horror of the situation, Griffin also considers Neenef's family situation and the problems of masculine socialization. In this way, she makes the complexities of the greater situation clear but ultimately (and rightly) condemns its perpetrators.
Griffin comes at the story with a specific perspective and a message—to educate the public about the domestic violence crisis in America. I think she makes this very transparent, so I had no problem with the angle. I still struggle with the difference between creative nonfiction and narrative journalism, because I find the term journalism to imply more of a presentation of facts without tons of interpretation. Perhaps this story represents the former and not the latter? I may be looking at it incorrectly. Either way, I think Griffin did an excellent job of addressing this dreadful topic with sensitivity, while still driving home important statistics and raising awareness about ever-present threats to women's safety. Hearing the story through many voices made it incredibly strong and resonant.
I couldn't decide whether to put my two small problems with the presentation of facts at the start or the end because they did not affect the impact the story had on me. I will leave them here as an afterthought:
1. I assumed, given Griffin's thorough reporting, that she had tried to contact the Odah family and failed to get a response. That being said, I wanted to know the details upfront, before the story began. She describes her efforts to get in touch near the end of the novel; however, I initially resisted some of her analysis—without actual family input—of the Odahs situation, especially in regard to them being immigrants.
2. I am pretty sure Frelon is not "the Spanish word for 'butterfly'" (53). This has nothing to do with the actual story here, and I know it's just my unnecessary nitpicking that drew my attention to it; however, it throws me off whenever reporters presenting a lot of big, complex facts fail to fact-check simple, quick ones.