It’s a sad book. It starts with a bus wreck that kills 14 kids. The first (and last) narrator is the bus driver. The second is a father of twins who died in the wreck. The next is an out of town lawyer who tries to gin up a class action lawsuit. Before the bus driver wraps up the novel, there’s a section by one of the kids who survived but was paralyzed. I want to avoid spoilers, so I won’t talk much more about the plot.* Despite the unreliability of the narrators, by piecing their stories together, the reader is able to get a good enough view of what actually happens. Banks understands that motives are complicated; it’s implicit in the structure of the book, but the second narrator says it outright, "Who knows now? Fixing motives is like fixing blame--- the further away from the act you get, the harder it is to single out one thing as having caused it." That blame forms one of the strands of the ethical problems explored in the book.
But the overwhelming mood of the book is sad rumination on loss and the effects of grief on a community. I read the book in a couple of sittings on a day off, and for the first time I read an entire book and watched the adaptation on the same day. By expanding the role of the lawyer and adding a throughline of a reference to the Pied Piper fairy tale, the movie manages to capture the sadness of the book, though it loses the Rashomon quality that the multiple narrators gave. This is a very good, very sad book, and I will probably seek out more of Banks’ work.
Owned But Previously Unread 2020 47/75
*Except to say that it does deal with incest in one of the sections, so know that going in.