This is a novel about something we all know, something we carry within us: our inward rage, our lives of fantasy. Not all of us accommodate rage or fantasy in the same way. Most of us -- bless us -- go about our peaceful business, though our confidential fury may produce fantasies we'd rather not confess. Sometimes some of us translate fantasies to outer life.
Most of us do not. Brown, in Killing Everybody (he has no other name we know), carries in his heart a burden of anger so terrible we think that he will burst. In a sense, he does. His rage communicates. His wife, a masseuse (her trade unknown to Brown: he thinks she's in real estate), soothes his rage when she strokes his body, but he knows that her husband will never rest until he has been liberated from his unendurable obsession. It is she who gives his fantasy reality, she who delivers death to his enemy.
In this book a diverse company walks the streets of San Francisco: a romantic policeman, a sexually compulsive newspaperman, a businessman who cannot read, a neighborhood temptress, her mother, her children, her dog, a corrupt war-making congressman -- and the ghost of the boy the congressman sent to die in war. It is a compelling story significantly familiar to all of us whose fantasies and outrage are accessible to our consciousness.
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October 25, 2002
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Excerpt from Killing Everybody by Mark Harris
Brown quickened his steps down the corridor in order to enter the elevator with Schwarzlose. Watch Brown! Brown is our man. We will remain with Brown all evening and far into the night. He is the engine of our story. Schwarzlose, on the other hand, will soon depart from our sight in the smoking noise of McGinley headquarters.
On the double doors inside the elevator someone had printed with a black felt-marking implement:
When the doors parted, however, the message read:
Up and down, night after night, week after week, Brown and Schwarzlose saw those words. Once, during recent weeks, someone had also written on the double doors, "Janitor, where are you?" and someone else (perhaps the janitor himself) had scrubbed away that message without scrubbing away the other.
Was it Brown who wrote on the elevator doors? No. It wasn't his language, nor would he have thought such a message productive. He wished above all to be productive, to improve the world. Had he done so? Had he made the world in any way better?
He had saved some souls, especially children's, by writing threatening or abusive anonymous letters here and there, or by placing threatening or abusive telephone calls. What hath God wrought? Watson, come here a minute. He hoped he'd never be caught at it. In the front of the telephone book the Company announced its own feelings in these matters:
Annoyance Calls. The laws of the State provide that whoever telephones another person and addresses to or about such other person any lewd, lascivious, or indecent words or language; or whoever telephones another person repeatedly for the purpose of annoying, molesting, or harassing such other person, or his or her family, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction, shall be fined in any sum not exceeding $500, to which may be added imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months....
Brown never uttered "lewd, lascivious, or indecent words or language." Even his thoughts were mainly free of such language. It was his training. His college was Faith Calvary Central, where he had been "in training for God's team" (here we are quoting his teacher, Dr. Blikey), until he discovered life more widely, when language vanquished God.
But the spirit of daily service nevertheless remained within him, and he performed every day an anonymous deed for justice. One deed a day was three hundred and sixty-five a year. Now and then he missed a day. (Who doesn't miss a day now and then?) Often he felt himself surviving a day without wrath just when his wrath set in, his rage mounted, and he'd make even several telephone calls then, or he'd dash off a flurry of mail. At this moment, elevator descending, rage rising, Brown felt the need to write a letter to a man in Montana about whom he had read an hour ago, for whom he had written a headline: