Another Day in the Death of America
November 23, 2013 was “just another day in America”, writes Gary Younge at the outset of this startling and upsetting book of reporting. “And as befits an unremarkable Saturday in America, ten children and teens were killed by gunfire.”
What follows is Younge’s attempt to profile these 10 people, as a sobering means of exploring exactly what is lost in a culture of proliferating firearms. Far from seeming exploitative – indeed, one section considers the issues in using children to illuminate a point – this is a necessary project when the sheer number of fatalities suggests that gun deaths in America are “generally understood in the same way as car accidents”. Where friends and relatives are accessible, they have been interviewed; these are awful, especially in cases where one relative or another was involved in the death.
As statistics, his subjects are relegated to a “white noise set sufficiently low to allow the country to go about its business undisturbed”, and the profiles seek to restore them from this status. But each chapter is also an essay that explores the undisturbed business itself: “a confluence of culture, politics and economics that guarantees that each morning several children will wake up but not go to bed”. Rather than a book about gun control, the author claims this is a book about a world made possible in gun control’s absence. Just as much though, it’s a book about the world that makes possible that absence, both removing its subjects from a numbing context and illuminating the context that put them there.
Younge chose a Saturday because the weekend is when young people are most likely to be shot, but otherwise the date is arbitrary. As it happens, all subjects are male and seven are black; none are killed by law enforcement, and the race of the assailant (where known) always matches the victim’s. But instead of “a selection of the most compelling cases possible”, the book forms “a narration of the deaths that happened”. This is the project’s value: precisely that it is random, so behind each profile loom many others that go unwritten.
A British reporter working in America for years, Younge’s interest in his topic grew personal when he fathered his own children. But only at the end of a deeply controlled narrative does he write: “Researching and writing this book has made me want to scream.” Readers will respond similarly. CR
Faber, 320pp, $29.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 29, 2016 as "Gary Younge, Another Day in the Death of America". Subscribe here.