It’s called the “bystander effect” and its real. It’s been proven time and again by psychologists. And it has been under discussion again with the Penn State scandal. (Read about it here from NPR) Most people think they would intervene if they saw a crime happening in front of them. They would either step in, or at least call the police or an ambulance. The truth is, as humans, it’s not that cut and dry. The more witnesses there are, the less likely it is that someone will come forward. Why? Everyone assumes that someone else will pick up the phone. The mind makes excuses.
In 1964, this bystander effect cost a young woman her life.
Based on the true events surrounding the attack of Kitty Genovese, Ryan David Jahn explores the by stander effect, creating scenarios for each of the neighbors who did nothing. Each chapter changes point-of-view, showing what each character was doing, instead of helping Kitty. Failing marriages, draft papers, corrupt cops and an ailing mother all lurk behind the windows, safely inside.
Jahn creates a set of very believable characters and the book begins quite strongly. But as the story progresses, it devolves into repetitive, spiraling narratives about selfish and shallow people. The only threads that kept me slogging through the mid-pages were that of Frank and Erin and Patrick and his mother. It finds its footing once again as the threads come together once again in the final chapters. Most effective is the first-person narrative of Kitty. Her inner thoughts of terror and determination for survival is gripping, and is the strength of the book. Even as it is a novel to be read for itself, hopefully, it will remind its readers of the importance of stepping in, speaking up and making a difference.
Many thanks to Penguin for the review copy.
ISBN 9780143118961 | 288 pages | 31 May 2011 | Penguin | 5.15 x 7.87in | 18 – AND UP