"What is government if words have no meaning?"
— Jared Lee Loughner
The Arizona legislature closed its first session after the Safeway shootings having deemed the Colt Single-Action Army Revolver the official state firearm and cutting $510 million from the state's health care budget, including services to the mentally ill. It also attempted to make it legal to carry a gun without restriction on a college campus, a bill vetoed by [Governor Jan] Brewer, who said the language was too ambiguous and might have made it legal to carry a gun onto a high school campus. There was almost no discussion at all about reforming the state's starving mental health network.
— Tom Zoellner
PROMISING IN HIS AUTHOR'S note to A Safeway in Arizona that, having used the tools of journalism, he will "arrive at a few conclusions," journalist Tom Zoellner further offers that his personal biases make this ambitious and deeply moving case study cum memoir something other than "objective journalism in the traditional sense." For this readers should be grateful, and for Zoellner's bravery in taking on the subject at all. I'll get to the book's main conclusion — a simple if sincere recommendation that readers behave as the impossibly brave and open-hearted Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords herself, with empathy, respect for others, selflessly — but just to say up front that as a personal friend of Giffords the author no doubt hesitated writing at all on a "subject" that could be seen as exploitative.
But who better than an Arizona native who'd watched the story develop? Who better than a once alienated kid from the neighborhood grown up to be a reporter who'd covered state politics for years, a talented veteran writer who, tragically, got a story assignment from Fate he could not refuse but clearly needed to write. The shooting, the state, the lives of assassin, reporter and Congresswoman provide a context, a reflection, an instructive exaggeration of the "national posture" — poor posture indeed — and the chance for one man to organize it. Zoellner imagines, as his clumsily vulnerable subtitle indicates, that the shooting one year ago in Arizona can indeed tell us something about what he calls the "American disaster tableau." In so involving its author in the book — a meditation, finally — the reader is invited to find herself, himself. To take it personally.
A Safeway builds on an all-too-necessary Chekhovian narrative arc. Hung on the wall in the first act, the handgun, a Glock 19, goes off immediately. But it never stops going off, ricocheting, and hitting every problem that defines what's wrong with the 48th state of the Union. The socio-political-historical survey is both subverted and amplified by the sound of Loughner killing and wounding, and killing some more. To reach, too easily, for the other available literary allusion, Zoellner holds that story to our heads, forcing us, as the old lady in the short story, to be good, and not just angry or sad.
"What is government," asked the arguably apolitical killer, native Arizonan Jared Lee Loughner himself, "if words have no meaning?" He really did ask the question of Giffords years earlier, in perso...read more