This is a book for times like these.
Things you thought never had a chance in the world of happening, things the whole world is watching in horror, things there’s no possible way back from, things like that are occurring.
Think 1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, hell, even Hunger Games.
Then mix in Silence of the Lambs, Se7en, and American Psycho.
Is that the world we’re creating for ourselves? The world of people we are surrounded ourselves with? I wonder. For now, we still have books to turn to, books to bring creative release and to supply us with worlds to explore and provide us with understanding, escape, and some form of solace.
This is Samuel Bradbury’s story. His is not a happy one—I’ll warn you now—and he doesn’t end up in good places. His mother leaves early and he’s (barely) raised by his religious, emotionally abusive, and absent father. No one understands him and from an early age, Samuel had bad impulses, urges to kill, and he doesn’t feel a bit bad about it. He only feels he’s becoming something more.
He’s telling his story from a point later in his life, when an eager governor gets backing to create a criminal zoo—if your crime was bad enough, you are locked up for the pleasure of the paying public. To make matters worse (or better, I suppose, depending on your point of view), you can pay an extra fee to join the criminal in their cage and torture them for just a few minutes. If the criminal lasts one year in the zoo, they are released to a normal prison to live out a life sentence.
They asked for it, right? Take a human life and treat it like nothing but dirt and you deserve to be subject to the worst that humanity can offer.
The book raises so many interesting and provocative questions. From the beginning, I felt sorry for Samuel. He is mistreated and emotionally stunted and abused his whole childhood, and even suffers from a bad head injury that went without proper treatment; without a doubt that could contribute to some of his psychopathic tendencies.
But there’s also something off about him. He doesn’t seem to feel at all. And, he has a sister who was raised in the same circumstances who turned out just fine. So, it’s the age old serial killer debate: nature vs. nurture?
I think it’s a bit of both. Perhaps you could be born with a bit of wiring out of place, a tendency toward sociopathic behaviors. But those behaviors can be channeled into good. With the neglect, injury, and confusion that Samuel went through as a child, his mind shut down and turned against his humanity.
But does that mean he is unfixable? Irredeemably broken? Should he be turned into a scapegoat, forced to suffer through unspeakable torture at the hands of supposedly normal citizens who have some cross to bear, some deep wound they think will be healed if they can cut his face with a switchblade?
And that’s not even mentioning the voyeurs. Sure, we all enjoy watching movies—I’m the biggest horror fan you know. But if it were real, if you could go watch people being tortured right in front of you, would you do it?
They are still people after all. The most inhumane, monstrous acts throughout history have always been done by people. And don’t we become the monsters if we treat them with as little regard as they treated their victims?
Doesn’t that make us just as bad as the criminals?
Where is the line drawn?
It feels prescient to be reading Criminal Zoo during election week. I feel like the emotions that comes out of the people who visit the zoo in this book is the same anger, hatred, and confusion that came from many voters this week—as shown by the results of the election.
Is this who we are? Is this what it means to be American? To support hate, bigotry, racism, sexism, and divisive, angry speech? I don’t think the criminal zoo is the way. I don’t think that anger is the way. We need to come together to show the world that we are bigger than this, despite the results. Or this could be our future.
We didn’t see this coming. What will be next?
Get your copy of Criminal Zoo
out November 15, 2016
Find out more about the publisher, Rare Bird Books
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Associate editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.