An American Tragedy" by Matthew Lysiak; Gallery
(288 pages, $25.99)
Lanza was, by all accounts, a strange child.
Lysiak’s new book, "Newtown: An American
Tragedy," tackles the challenge of drawing a
portrait of the troubled young man, who killed 20
children and six adults in a Connecticut elementary
school last year. In junior high, Lysiak tells us, young
Adam carried around an empty briefcase and insisted on
sanitizing his desk each time he sat down. As an
adolescent, his Little League teammates found it amusing
when he was hit by a pitch — they knew he suffered
from a form of sensory deprivation and couldn’t feel
when he was 4 years old, Adam Lanza got his first gun,
an aluminum Ruger 10/22. The boy who wouldn’t allow
himself to be touched "liked the feel of the gun in
his hands." His mother, who had been told by a
doctor that he suffered from Asperger’s syndrome, a
form of autism, was thrilled to see her boy out in the
woods with another boy, shooting at targets.
was a weirdness about him," a Cub Scout leader
tells Lysiak. But with a gun in his hand, Adam was
different. When Adam held a gun, "he could really
focus and in no time he became a good shot."
Lanza was a cypher. His crime, among the most heinous in
U.S. history, demands a serious study of what
transformed an odd boy into a killer. Such a work might
also serve as a cathartic retelling of the massacre’s
assault on the psyche of an American community.
Unfortunately "Newtown: An American Tragedy"
isn’t trying to be that kind of book.
"Newtown" is a slapped-together mishmash of
information, including short anecdotes about the victims
and survivors (most of which have already been
extensively reported), quotes culled from official news
releases and funeral speeches. Lysiak covered the events
for the New York Daily News, and "Newtown"
feels like the work of a reporter emptying his notebook
and rushing to complete his book in time for the first
anniversary of the Dec. 14 tragedy.
stiff writing voice is one the book’s many problems: a
6-year-old victim is portrayed as "focused on his
future ambitions" the day before the shooting.
Another is the author’s apparent inability to
distinguish normal teenage behavior (millions play video
games and don’t become killers) from the seemingly
psychotic depths to which Adam Lanza descended in the
final years of his life.
Lysiak’s description of Adam Lanza’s teenage years.
"Adam’s troubles continued to escalate. He just
could not fit in," Lysiak writes. "While most
children were talking about Avril Lavigne or the latest
Harry Potter book, on the rare occasions when he did
speak, it was often about fifties rock music or
says in the preface that he conducted
"hundreds" of interviews. But he manages only
a frustratingly thin portrait of the woman at the center
of the story — Lanza’s mother, Nancy, who was also
his first victim.
of America rushed to blame and judge Nancy, who provided
her son with most of the arsenal he took to Sandy Hook
Elementary that morning. Was Nancy Lanza overprotective,
too indulgent? Was she in denial about her son’s
most important source on Nancy’s thinking is the
series of emails she wrote to a friend. But he doesn’t
do much more than report Nancy’s repeated complaints
about her son’s condition without trying to uncover
the deeper truths about her relationship with her son.
To know a subject, an author must be honest about what
that subject won’t say, won’t admit or is trying to
hide. Lysiak has no such writing vocation.
so hard to pull him out of his own little world,"
Nancy wrote in one email, not long after a high school
teacher had discovered gruesome drawings of corpses that
hinted at Adam’s dark and disturbed inner world.
"Still searching for that healthy balance of
pushing him hard enough while not pushing him too
the end, Nancy started to give up on her son, especially
as he reached the milestone of his 20th birthday. She
allowed him to spend many weeks without leaving home, in
a room where the windows were sealed off with black
is at its most compelling when recounting the horrors
that unfolded during the five minutes Adam Lanza spent
shooting inside Sandy Hook Elementary. Lysiak captures
the terror felt by teachers and children and the cruelty
of Lanza’s actions with descriptions that are spare
and chilling but in no way gratuitous.
struggles again, however, as he attempts to give voice
to the larger meaning of the tragedy. It’s hard to
fault him for this. Perhaps we’re simply too close to
that violent day to have much perspective about it.
After all, Dave Cullen spent a decade writing
"Columbine," the best book yet about America’s
epidemic of mass shootings. In 10 more years, maybe
another writer will tackle the tragedy of Sandy Hook
Elementary and get closer to the truths it has to teach