“There is evil in the world. There is definitely evil in this world of ours.”
Two sentences never summed up a book more appropriately. Six Stories is a phenomenal psychological thriller. It’s also so much more.
There is so much to love about this book!
The first thing I love about it, is the format. It’s written in an interview style, simulating a podcast series, named, Six Stories. In this series, the host takes the listener through old, unsolved crimes in six segments, each focusing on a different aspect of the case.
In every voice, Wesolowski uses font to differentiate who is speaking. In this way, he is able to structure the narration to mimic the interview style without making it noisy to the reader. I found myself hearing the individual voices of each speaker, as if I was actually listening to a podcast. It is superbly executed!
The heart of the story is a murder mystery. A teenage boy disappears from a camping trip with an outdoor club. With no body to be found, and no witnesses, the police rule it an accident. The conclusion holds true, when the body is discovered by the owners of the land a year later. The case is settled, but not.
Twenty years later, Scott King, the host of Six Stories, begins interviewing the individuals involved in the case.
The most unsettling aspect is that initially, no one knew why they boy disappeared. The kids he was with had no memory of the night. The adults supervising them had no answers either. Was it murder? An accident? Something else? Even after the body was found, no further clues were uncovered.
As the interviews progress, we are drawn into the year leading up to the night of the disappearance. We see a story unfold of teenagers raised to be kind and accepting. We are shown that perhaps behind the curtain, when left on their own, that perhaps they weren’t as kind and accepting as the adults in their lives thought.
What is really compelling about this novel, though, is the deeper and more subtle commentary and examination of social issues.
The broader, more initial comment, is on media coverage.
“Again, it all makes you speculate: should a tragedy like the one that befell Tom Jeffries in 1996 happen now, what might be the impact on someone like Derek of the trial by media and the press condemnation that would surely ensue?”
I found that quote, and the varying commentary of similar tone incredibly fascinating. We have a tendency now to speculate on any and all news coverage that comes our way. When the news contains missing children, or violence, or murder, we demand coverage constantly. We want to know everything about the victim, the suspects, anyone involved. And often, with that demand, we tend to make our judgements outside of the courtroom. We decide the guilt or innocence based on that speculation.
The other nuance of that commentary is that, the podcast is a result of that demand. New outlets for talk radio, news programs, blogs, they all arise from our constant need to know. Even though this host assures us that he is in no way leading us to a conclusion, that he only presents the evidence and allows his listeners to draw their own judgements, it is still astute to wonder at the change of times.
It raises an interesting question beyond simply wondering on the specific outcome of the case. Does that level of public scrutiny, or public judgement, taint an investigation? Would the outcome have been different?
In fact, the only person who seems aware of the damage media scrutiny can wreak, is the first interviewee, Harry Saint Clement-Ramsay, the son of the wealthy land owner and the one to discover the body a year later. He is wary of participating because he knows full well what can happen when you open the door to media coverage.
The brilliance in the novel, though, is the discussion and questions raised in regards to bullying. Media coverage is a subtle nod to the idea of bullying. Not simply in the way it is covered, but also in how it can be a form of bullying itself. This is smart, and is presented subtly, in small comments sprinkled throughout the interviews. However, there is a deeper conversation that also occurs.
“You see, the thing is, unless you’ve been on the other end of bullying, you don’t really know how much these smaller things can affect you.”
This is referring to the small taunts, the minor insults and whispers that all children are guilty of. How can those small things be considered bulling? Should they be considered bullying?
Again, the author alludes to the fact that this disappearance happened before Columbine, before bullying was a topic being examined and discussed all over the world. The nuances of what bullying is, was, could be, were never looked at in the case of Tom Jeffries. If they had, would they have made a difference? Drawn a different conclusion?
At the heart of this novel, I believe this is the question. What impact can these small teases, these minor occurrences have on a child. When is teasing not teasing? At what point do we look at our children, really look at them, and intervene?
The difference between the adults being interviewed and the children actually involved was startling. They tell a set of two different stories, paint two different pictures. The overall scene is the same, but the details are strikingly different.
“Is this a lesson? In some ways, I suppose it is. Tom Jeffries was clearly an unpleasant character whose actions went largely unpunished. A group of teenagers who were allowed softer boundaries than most, raised to be accepting and tolerant, yet still allowed one of their members to feel victimised.”
When is tolerance too tolerant? It is a profound and impactful question. One that isn’t raised as often as perhaps it should be.
The quote at the beginning then becomes two fold. There is the evil we know, the evil we are comfortable facing. It is outlandish, public, overt. Then there is a more subtle evil. The kind that grows before our eyes. The kind that we feed every day.
Matt Wesolowski draws the reader in, unfolding the mystery slowly, leading us to a conclusion we think we are prepared for. Yet, when we reach the end, we still find ourselves shocked. It is skillful writing that blindsides you with a twist you never see coming.
This book was masterful and well done. In the way of life, we are given answers that are full but not fully satisfying. We know, but we are uneasy with the knowledge. Because embracing it, makes us face hard truths.
I highly, highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys suspense, mystery or thriller genres.
Once again, thank you Orenda Books for allowing me this amazing opportunity! I loved this book and look forward to reading more from the author, Matt Wesolowski.