If We Had Known

As mass shootings continue in the United States, the crisis is reflected in works of fiction. Elise Juska (The Blessings) takes a notable approach in her latest novel, contemplating post-shooting fallout from multiple perspectives, none of which are from the points of view of the mall shooter or anyone at the scene. The narrators and secondary characters in If We Had Known may be on the periphery of the tragedy, but the ripples in their lives are no less encompassing.

Maggie Daley teaches English 101 to all Central Maine State freshmen. Maggie's sense of self is inextricably intertwined with being a professor, and she prides herself on the trust fostered in her classroom. When she realizes the shooter is a former pupil, she digs up an essay he wrote and begins to question her memories of him from four years earlier.

Another former student writes a Facebook post mentioning the "really weird" paper from Maggie's class. Social media comments pour in, adding recollections of the shooter viewed through a newly skewed lens. When the essay becomes public, the maelstrom threatens Maggie's career and her perception of her relationships, including with her fragile daughter.

Juska's compelling narrative tackles complex issues about society's judgment of and responsibility for others. Can we accurately predict violent acts? Who is responsible for intervening? Are we oblivious to the signs or do we ignore them? Maggie's relationships with her lover, ex-husband and daughter are evidence that we all miss signs every day, even when those closest to us are sending them. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

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