“Oh, the horror.” —Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
It’s been a bad few days in my neck of the Maine woods. A couple of weeks ago a young man named Gordon shot and killed his wife in front of their two children, then shot himself at the end of a police chase. Then, yesterday, a man named Lake killed his estranged wife and their two young children. Then he killed himself. Police came before he could torch the house.
In both cases, marriages that had begun with joy not so many years ago, were in tatters. Children lived amidst anger and, at least in the second case, threats of violence. And then, in a last convulsion of spite and twisted logic, the families were destroyed from within. Survivors are shattered and will carry this horror with them forever. There’s no way to rationalize it, make it make sense, make it better. It is done. It cannot be fixed. Oh, the horror.
I read these stories with a sort of dread. I looked at the photos of the families in happier days. The picture of the Lake family in the Bangor Daily News shows the family on vacation. They’re smiling, entrance stickers to a museum or something stuck to their shirts. From that happy day to this.
I’ve written about domestic violence before, in my newspaper days, of course, and in a novel called LIFELINE. In that book Jack McMorrow befriends a woman who has come to court to seek protection from her abusive boyfriend. Her name is Donna Marchant. McMorrow tries to help her. It doesn’t work out very well.
Of all my books, LIFELINE has the most realistic conclusion. In the end, there is no knight in shining armor. McMorrow tries to salvage a bad situation. A child is spared. A bad guy is hauled off in handcuffs. The plot twists and turns and, in the end, snaps your head back. This is one where even I didn’t see it coming.
But there is no real justice in these sorts of cases, not in real life. In hindsight, these tragedies seem both avoidable (oh, if only we’d known) and inevitable. Protection orders issued by courts are just pieces of paper. They don’t stop bullets. They don’t stop someone bent on self-destruction.They have little effect on someone who wants to die and take others with him.
This is why I don’t write true crime books. In the fictional world of my novels, there is justice. There are bad guys but they usually get what’s coming to them. In the end, there is order, or at least a semblance of it. In real life? Not so much.
So after I read about true crimes like these, I retreat to the refuge of my made-up stories and my made-up friends. There are good guys and bad guys but good guys usually win. McMorrow is funny. Clair is wise. Roxanne is courageous. Brandon Blake is sincere and earnest. Mia is writing it all down.
If only s real life were like this. As Hemingway wrote, “Isn’t it pretty to think so.”