Take a typical Saturday in the USA, find every gun death that day, and tell the story of each. What you will get is not a book about gun control, but about victims: ordinary people struggling against the legacies of poverty, segregation and American history. Compassionate, sceptical, thoughtful and honest, Gary Younge’s work reminds us what great journalism looks like. It could hardly be more timely.
Another Day in the Death of America examines the maelstrom of forces that converge to kill so many young Americans: modern segregation; the psychology of infanticide; parenting on the poverty line; media disinterest in ‘complicated’ victims; the toxicity of gun control debate in the US; the trauma and fatalism of teens scarred by gun death; the legacy of revenge; the ubiquity of gangs; the frightening availability of weapons; the psychology of adolescent risk-taking – it is a searching work that ultimately covers an anatomy of American life.
But the analysis never loses sight of the human, and Younge never speaks on behalf of his people. They have their own voices, their own explanations, sometimes contrary to the author’s. There is one moment a victim’s family agree the eleven-year-old shooter should be executed: the author is taken aback, agape, but gives them space to explain themselves, without presuming to interject or interpret. He knows the power journalists have to shape human pain to their own stories, and he is cautious about exercising that power.
This scepticism is what makes the book such fine journalism. Younge questions explanations relentlessly, and has a healthy fear of making the wrong call, of writing the wrong polemic. His even-handedness can occasionally be a fault, paralysing his momentum. But at a moment when so much journalism is tendentious, shallow, and scared of nuance, we need more Gary Younges.
These micro-reviews surmise a book, essay or work in 200-300 words. I’m writing them to practice slimming down my prose.