by Jeff Bennington
Nexgate Press (2011)
Available via Amazon
High school shootings: they are practically a foreign concept in my neck of the woods. I mean, before Columbine, we here in Canada only really had the Polytechnique massacre as a touchstone to such violence, so far as I recall. And that was a shooting more associated with violence against women than bullied teens going apeshit. In either case, there's always been a bit of an aura around school shootings that they demand the utmost reverence in how violently they render a school, a community, even a nation. So, when a book like Reunion comes around, with a school shooting and its aftermath as the subject matter for a supernatural thriller, I wondered if there might be some kind of backlash, however slight.
Turns out there wasn't, and as I read reviews for the book over the last few months, I discovered many really enjoyed the book and its approach to the subject matter. And since it was only 99 cents on the Kindle Store when I bought it, I figured I could take a chance on it, too.
The story begins with the morning leading to a school shooting in Crescent Falls, Idaho, with a bullied, abused, neglected, and emotionally disturbed student named David Ray walks into school with multiple guns, killing eight, then turning one of his guns on himself. Twenty years later, the survivors prepare for their first high school reunion, five of whom providing viewpoints of the trauma, unresolved issues, and building tension as the reunion looms. Deputy Bryan Jacobs, one of the surviving students, is arguably the main character as he's the first of the five to see an apparition inside the dessicated school grounds, as well as a long-lingering love interest in a former classmate and fellow survivor, Kate. Kate's married to her high school sweetheart, Nick Tooley, however, who has turned to alcohol in his bout with depression over the years. The love triangle plays its own part in the story, but is not the only part, as they all contend with their emotions and the threat of a malevolent spirit waiting for them all to return to the school.
I wish I could say I enjoyed this novel as much as others have expressed, but I found it a real chore to work through. Some elements worked for me, such as the gradual introduction of the apparitions on the school grounds, and Nick Tooley's PTSD and growing madness, as he believes David Ray is speaking to him from beyond the grave. But the dialogue felt so stiff, forced even, and I couldn't rally behind any of the characters. I read one review that compared it to the kind of speech you'd hear in a daytime soap opera, and I think I can agree with that. As a result of the dialogue, and what felt at times like very predictable behavior, the characters didn't resonate with me at all.
I find I'm in the minority, and my attitude towards the novel are of no concern by most who read it. Perhaps I over-thought it, but that's only because I didn't get sucked into the story. I fell out of it once the pace slowed in the wake of the shootings, like a reset button had been hit and I had to get to know the characters in their adulthood all over again, and I just didn't care. It might be worth a chance for you, especially for a mere dollar or so on the Kindle Store, but I have a feeling there's a better chance for me at a satisfying read when Bennington's next novel, Act of Vengeance, comes out at the end of the year or the start of next year.