I’ve just finished re-reading Random Acts of Senseless Violence by Jack Womack. Set in New York at an unspecified date, Random Acts… is the story of 12-year old Lola Hart’s experiences as her family’s situation takes a downturn, against a backdrop of political and economic turmoil.
We see Lola’s development through entries in her diary, which she names Anne. The difficulties faced by anyone of her age are compounded by her family’s changing circumstances and the deterioration of the world she knows. When we join Lola’s story it is her birthday. She is a happy, contented child, with insight into the adult world she will soon begin to join.
Mama says mine is a night mind. The first time she said that I asked her what she meant and she said ‘Darling you think best in the dark like me.’ I think she’s right. Here I am staying up late tonight so I can write in my new diary. Mama gave it to me for my birthday today. I love to write. Mama and Daddy write but I don’t think they love to write anymore, they just write because they have to.
With money increasingly tight, the family is forced to move to a cheaper, less desirable area of the city. Lola’s middle-class friends abandon her, and her sister Cheryl, whom she nicknames Boob, becomes withdrawn as the stresses take their toll. Her father is forced to take a low-paid, high-pressure job.
As Lola mixes with new people and forges new relationships, her entire life is altered, the transformation she experiences wonderfully conveyed through the language used in her diary. Even the typesetting and punctuation change to reflect Lola’s shifting life. By summer, she has transformed.
It’s certified that nobody got through the riot glass clear and sure enough I didn’t Anne. While I sat there a cop ran up wearing his mirror glass riot helmet and holding his club. I did nada but that was unmattered as he went by me he swung hitting me upside my head and running on. I didn’t coma but I pitched and minuteslong I lay sidewalked feeling drippy warm and I wondered if I was prepping to cool permanent. I was careless if I did or not.
With its setting wholly relevant to the current political situation, and the pressures facing teenagers throughout the world, Random Acts of Senseless Violence is a tragedy that should be covered in schools. An essential read for writers, too, Random Acts… is a masterclass in character development and emotion between the lines. A wonderful, sad book, the social calamity of which could be just around the corner for us all – and for many is already a reality.
I’m a writer, editor, and Royal Literary Fund Fellow.
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