Saturday, November 28, 2009

Book Review: The Song of an Innocent Bystander by Ian Bone

Book: The Song of an Innocent Bystander
Author: Ian Bone
Published: 2004
Source: Local Library

Years ago, a madman held thirteen people hostage in a hamburger restaurant for thirty-six hours. At the end, two men were dead and the rest walked away. One of the hostages, nine-year-old Freda Opperman, became the face of the event, the innocent victim, the brave survivor. Her mother keeps the legacy alive through the media and various good works done in Freda's name. But inside that restaurant, with the gunman, Freda knows she wasn't innocent or a victim or even particularly brave. It's all documented on a set of napkins written by the store's manager, one of the eventual dead men. She's never read them, but ever since being carried out of that restaurant, she's hidden them away like a treasure, or a secret.

When a reporter comes to write a ten-year retrospective of the siege, his questions are different from all the others--more penetrating, more accusing. As Freda weathers this attack from outside, she has to decide whether to bury her long-ago actions forever or to forgive herself--and she doesn't know which will be harder.

This is a story that you uncover gradually, chipping away at like a fossil or an onion. You're given the basic facts at the start, but the interpretation of them--who did what, who felt what, why, when, where, how--keeps shifting as pieces of the past are revealed.

Ian Bone does some interesting things with point of view and pronouns. He uses a first-person point of view for Freda's present-day reflections and experiences. Then the camera pulls away into a third-person omniscient for the siege itself, showing things that Freda wasn't witness to. Sprinkled throughout are the infamous napkins, documenting the manager's fear, despair, and changing view of the nine-year-old Freda.

Yet another version is the heroic victim that her mother and the media have created. Freda often refers to herself in the third person as the brave survivor, especially when she's reflecting on the role she plays for the cameras and the reporters.

She is never called by name in the flashbacks--she is only "the girl," which made me wonder if we were going to be treated to a switcheroo where Freda was not the girl taken under John Wayne O'Grady's wing. In fact, she is, but it's the Freda that O'Grady wanted. His soldier, his comrade.

All these facets of the same character show us how one person, and one event, can be viewed differently by every witness, even the one behind the eyes. Try this book for a thought-provoking look at the stories we create about ourselves and others.

1 comment:

Jean Hay said...

I don't agree that Freda has never read the nakins. I think that's why she feels such guilt about her role in the siege. She thinks she's that girl that Theo described.