The Report: A Novel by Jessica Francis Kane (Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2010. 240 pp)

Born in Berkeley, CA, Jessica Francis Kane graduate from Yale University. Her work has earned her the Lawrence Foundation Prize and fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and special mention in the Puschart Prize Anthology. She lives in New York with her husband and their two children.

Unite and Divide

National tragedies have a tendency to unite and divide. It whittles down to use against them. On the one hand, the “us” becomes extremely pronounced. The importance of neighbor increases when shared experience pushes a community toward teamwork and generosity. On the other hand, “them” becomes a nebulous evil. Narratives of a lone wolf and individual hatred morph into full-scale stereotypes of specific ethnic groups.

September 11 offers a compelling illustration of this dueling nature. The resolve and camaraderie of Americans, even thousands of miles away from the terrorist attacks provides ample evidence of the importance of community to make it through tough times.

And yet, this community has no space for those people outside of the Judeo-Christian norm. Life became much more difficult for many Americans of Middle Eastern descent.

This tension arises in Jessica Francis Kane’s compelling novel, The Report.

Bethnal Green

Set in World War II London during the blitz, The Report narrates the tragic crush that occurs at Bethnal Green during an air raid warning and the messy aftermath of the event.

At the end of March 3, 1943, more than 170 people have died of asphyxiation. It started with nothing more than a push and tragically, not a single bomb dropped on the city that night.

“Not until the all clear sounded and the pressure from the top of the steps finally eased could any sense be made of the scene. The bodies of the few still alive and the many dead formed a tangled mass of such complexity that the work of extrication was interminably slow” (35).

In its aftermath, a young official receives the task of writing a report on the disaster. Laurence Dunne faces a difficult process. The public demands a scapegoat and rumblings of Jewish refugees as the cause litter the pubs of the iconic city.

“He didn’t want to reduce the disaster to just another example of there being too many Jews in the East End. This was not the story he wanted to tell; nor was it the one the city needed to hear” (194).

Bowing to such demands might cause violence for the marginalized. And yet, any blame on the government surely causes no influence, as such a report will be buried, even if a strange anti-aircraft explosion might have occured.

In Support

In supporting roles to the story, we follow a grieving mother who lost her youngest daughter in the tragic crush and hopes to adopt a shelter orphan to make her family whole again.

And finally, we also view Dunne through a young filmmaker, Paul, seeking to document the writing of the report, 30 years after the events in the mid-seventies. Throughout the process, we see a man seeking truth and yet working difficultly to diplomatically provide the answers.

And we see a frail community, doing its best to stick together, but also on the cusp of complete fracture.

The Report reminds me of the miasma around the events of 9/11. The desire to be with family; the fear of further pain and violence inflicted in an instant.

Interestingly, Kane uses lines from the 9/11 Commission report at the very beginning of her novel and The Report does a good job of highlighting the unity and division we often see in times of peril. Recommended.

Verdict: 4 out of 5

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