The Song of an Innocent Bystander by Ian Bone (2004)
When Freda was nine years old she and her family goes to eat out. Freda is psyched because normally her mother Nancy would never agree to such a place as Family Value. So when her kids meal doesn’t include the sticker she so badly wanted she talks her dad into letting her go back in to get her sticker. With determination, Freda walks straight to the front counter unaware of the man who is standing on top one of the tables holding a gun.
Ten years later, Freda is still haunted by the ghosts of her past, by the unspoken secrets, and suffers under the protective arms of her mother who is hellbent on making sure corporations don’t allow such victimization to continue. The tragedy she endured however is brought back to surface when she begins to receive phone calls. Someone knows about one of her unspoken secrets. And then there is William, a college student who wants to interview her. His styles of interviewing are unlike anyone Freda has ever spoken to and she doesn’t know exactly what to make of him or his questions.
The book is told in a narrative that goes from the present time and into the past. It unfolds tale of the siege, a madman and the little Freda. All the lives of the strangers trapped within the confines of the restaurant who withheld emotions for a lonely little girl because they could only think of their own survival. The story explores how and why a nine year old might form a partnership with the only person who is showing her any kindness and mercy-the gunman and the traumatic, far-reaching effects such a partnership has on the current day lives.
Freda is a confused adult in this book. She struggles to make sense of herself, the people around her, and her past. Freda as a little girl is forever changed. Sometimes the story was a bit confusing but it makes sense because the girl herself is all mixed up, fighting to find her place in the world but is split between the person she wants to be and the person that everyone else wants her to be and the person the gunman taught her to be. I wasn’t able to connect with Freda but I don’t believe this book was about connecting with her. I believe it was about seeing her experience from the past and how she was coming to terms with it in her present.
The story definitely led me to think about things I might not have. I finished the book the very same day of the CT shooting so it sat heavier in my stomach but not in a bad way. It wasn’t a scrumptious tale, but it was tasty in the way it made me look at the futuristic way of the changes in the lives a person, a family, a community endures over such tragedies. Parts we uncomfortable, parts were confusing, especially the near ending.
John (Wayne) O’Grady aka the gunman was a man who I connected with in only the sense that he had been wronged by a confusing system that often times doesn’t think about the little person. He wanted others to hear him and I got that. The writer portrayed him as a weak person who only appeared strong because of the tools before him. The relationship between him and the young Freda was definitely one that was a give and take on both sides. When none of the others treated him the way he felt he should be treated he could turn to young Freda and see in her eyes that what he had to say was important.
Ian Bone wrote a multi-layered story and all the layers had moments of staleness. However, those moments were far and few. The present day Freda was dealing with feeling like she was losing her mind, fighting to be an adult beneath the protective arms of a mother who was scared to let others see just who the real Freda was, and the presence of William, who was fighting against his own demons and trying to get a sense of Freda’s demons in hopes of curing his own issues.
The scene of the siege…I sort of wanted more but the writer could not have given too much more otherwise the plot would be overpowered by the insignificant scenes. He wrote his plots well. I would not say it was crunchy or spicy but it was full of layers.
If you are into books that offer up a view of the human species on a psychological and analytical pallet this one is definitely for you…in so many ways. The myriad of characters all offer juicy examples of just how far one can dissect the mind, behavior, and actions as a result of unforeseeable events.
If you want a book that is light, soft, and fill-good…pass it up. This one is so not for you.
My verdict: 7/10