So Far Gone: A Novel by Paul Cody

Mental illness and mass murder.  The death penalty for a perpetrator who was grotesquely victimized by those he murdered.  Hints of satanic ritual abuse (which could just as easily have been Jack Connor's delusions or dreams rather than memories), though the very real psychological abuse and daily double-binds he suffered at the controlling hands of his sadistic grandmother were just as satanic, and certainly the most destructive and damning forces in the long sad haul of his sorry, isolated existence (I won't call it a life), that he endured in a bleak house that might as well have been Death Row.

Is it seriously possible to empathize with this immature and mentally ill man who killed his grandmother and parents?  Probably not.  Not even when we see how his parents regularly threatened him with yet another psychiatric month-long incarceration at the local institution if he didn't shape up, and stop shuffling around late at night in his dreary attic room, keeping them awake with worry or driving them crazy, as if they needed any further assistance in the crazy department.  Yet Paul Cody accomplishes this impossible feat, using "eyewitness" vignettes from a multitude of sources who knew him in school or from the psychiatric hospital, in rendering the decades-long process it took for Jack Connor to become that irreparably damaged human being capable of then being that automatic monster the police and media made of him, after the fact.  But Jack Connor was not a psychopath.

Cody gave a knowing nod to Denis Johnson's first novel, Angels, and to Joan Didion, quoting both as a preface to his novel.  Fans of either Johnson or Didion might be already predisposed toward appreciating a complexly disturbing novel like Cody's as I was, which is not to say that Cody, while certainly skilled as a storyteller, is as accomplished a writer as they are. Regardless, So Far Gone is still unforgettable, if uncomfortable, to read and then contemplate, considering how the murders might've been prevented or how Jack Connor, like unknown numbers of mentally ill, fall through the system's cracks, especially in light of too many recent mass murders in the news.