A Reviewer’s Conundrum: The Rising

Occasionally, reviewers get books that we hope beyond hope we won’t have to write a negative review. This is not to say we don’t want to write a negative review; the challenge is the subject matter.

In The Rising: Murder, Heartbreak, and the Power of Human Resilience in an American Town, by Ryan D’Agostino, the subject matter is the about a man whose whole family, wife and two girls, were brutally murdered after a home invasion turned bad. His head was bashed in with a baseball bat, and the amount of blood lost was such that he should have died. Seriously, difficult subject matter. And so, it is really quite difficult to write a negative review about a book written by someone about a story like this one.

I am from Florida, specifically, the area Tyler Hadley took a hammer to his parents’ heads. I’ve read the multiple articles full of sensationalism, flowery language and bad metaphors about this particular local crime. I understand the delicate nature of writing about crimes and the people they affect; and I recognize a great many of us want either the true-life crime which includes all the gory details, or the story of heartbreak and resilience. What I don’t understand in either case is writing an article or story which includes filler – just write the story. I believe if you don’t have enough to fill a book, then don’t write a book, write a series of articles.

The Rising: Murder, Heartbreak, and the Power of Human Resilience in an American Town is one such book that I feel should have stayed a series of articles. First, the book, despite all the assurances that it isn’t, feels like a clever advertisement for the Petit Family Foundation. Second, if one didn’t know this was an actual event, one would think it was crime fiction. There’s just too much waxing on poetically in areas where the flowery metaphors and the half-developed ideas just isn’t necessary.

One point of contention for me is the author ponders over and over again how the book’s primary subject could possibly gone on living. The first time the author asked us to join him in considering this question, I couldn’t help but think maybe the guy is Catholic – at which point, if you commit suicide, you won’t go to heaven, thus never seeing your wife and daughters again…if you believe in that stuff. Even when the author was discussing the religions of the primary subjects, he never seemed to make this connection.

Interestingly, The Rising: Murder, Heartbreak, and the Power of Human Resilience in an American Town is classified under the Faith genre on blogging for books; sadly, there is little discussion of faith and often any points to the regard of faith are never fully developed. In the places you can buy the book, you will find it listed under categories like biography & memoir, personal growth, love and loss, death & grief, murder and mayhem. The way this book is written, there’s more murder and mayhem, and less of the other stuff – and I really don’t think this is what the author was trying to accomplish.

Then, there were the silly metaphors used:
his voice a hostage of dread
But deep in his eyes lived staunch goodness, a firm goodness of right and wrong” (in his eyes?!)
screamed down the driveway about a million miles an hour” (no he didn’t)
like a blind woman searching for a bible” (just weird – too bad the faith reference to the bible didn’t work)
a bullet head and metal shavings for eyes” (seriously?!)
looks like a detective from the Chicago PD” (meaning what?)

Further, there are glaring inconsistencies where the author waxes on about how everyone in the state knows about the crimes, but there’s a witness from the state (an FBI agent) who knows nothing about the case, until he’s called to be a witness. There are many pages about the success of the subject’s career and the amount of time he’s traveling and never really home, this is backed up by someone’s statements (probably the wife’s sister) that she held the family together (and she’s goes into detail)…and yet the author really tries to hammer home the surviving subject’s “instinct” to protect. This is on page 108 of the hard copy I received for review by Blogging for Books. This section would have been so much more powerful if the author had discussed PTSD (which people other than the military suffer from) rather than go on about how protective the guy was; because if I was an asshole, I’d write about all the examples in the book where he probably wasn’t, but the author didn’t pay attention to the inconsistency.

Other inconsistencies float through the book every couple of pages, some are minor (he drove to the UCONN games – though the page before talks about how his sister had a route on UCONN game pickup, like it was written in stone), and some are major disjointed areas in the timeline like “Jennifer fell into the routine” though she’d already had two daughters and been a part of the routine for years by the time the author says this in the text; and dates on pictures being one year, when the picture seems to be saying its another year. Further, in said picture (page 36), height is called into question – the author previously tells us Mr. Petit is one height, but if you look at the door jam and Hanna’s husband and Jennifer, you really have to question the author’s description of Bill’s height; because even if Hanna’s husband is on a step, that’s a really big step…and the date on the photo isn’t the same as the date referenced in the book caption.

The studious reader will most likely, at this point (again, page 36), realize everything the author has to say must be taken with a grain of salt, thus an opportunity is missed and Mr. Bill Petit’s story becomes little more than a tragic event that happened to someone else; and the book becomes little more than clever advertising for both the Petit Family Foundation and a possible future run for a political office.

The events on the night that forever changed Bill Petit’s life were (and are) tragic. It is admirable that he was able to go on with life without being strung out on heroin or self-destructing; and his family probably deserves a great deal of credit helping him through the process – Hanna is exactly the same type of sister I strive to be within my own sibling relationships. This is why there is a reviewers’ conundrum – its very difficult to seperate the writing of the story from the story itself. It is my hope the next time someone wants to share the Petit Family tragedy as a way to consider our ability as human beings to be resilient, it will be written by a journalist, but instead by someone who has an ability to not sensationalize or aggrandize anything about the story or the people. Someone who has the ability to take an in-depth look at death & dying, grief, love & loss and share with us the truly stunning ability we have as human beings to be resilient in spite of seriously difficult situations should write this story…this family deserves no less.

The Rising: Murder, Heartbreak, and the Power of Human Resilience in an American Town By Ryan D’Agostino

You can buy the book directly from the publisher

About Ryan D’Agostino: RYAN D’AGOSTINO is the editor-in-chief of Popular Mechanics magazine. Previously, he was an articles editor at Esquire, and he has written for The New Yorker, Ski, and other publications.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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