This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp is told in short chapters, sharing the story of a school shooting in “real-time,” told from the perspective of four students with various connections to the shooter, filling in some blanks and gaps as we proceed breathlessly to the inevitable conclusion.
I finished This Is Where It Ends the day before our faculty spent a morning undergoing active shooter response training, training that served as a morbid fact check for Nijkamp’s novel.
We were told that nearly all school shootings involve a single shooter (Columbine being a notable exception).
We were told that in nearly all school shootings the shooter is a young male.
We were told that nearly all school shootings end only when the shooter is killed or kills himself.
We were shown ways to distract, attack, disable, and disarm a shooter.
We were told that locking classroom doors and hiding, as we have been trained to do in the past, is often not the best way to deal with an active shooter scenario.
We were not told how we would react if this scenario became a reality. We were not told this because none of us know. None of us know whether the fear will paralyze us, whether self-preservation will make cowards of us, whether self-preservation is even cowardice, or whether some potent cocktail of adrenaline and morality will lead us to heroic actions. We were not told whether these heroic actions will be where it ends for us or for the shooter or both.
Nijkamp tells us where it ends for Tyler, the lone gunman. She tells us where it ends for his sister. She tells us where it ends for his sister’s girlfriend. She tells us where it ends for teachers and students alike. She tells us in staccato bursts, like gunfire, ricocheting between narrators, disorienting us at times. She shows us sacrifice and heroism and fear and terror and panic and cruelty.
Some readers may want more about where it began, more about how Tyler broke bad, more about character relationships. But Nijkamp’s novel is not primarily about those things (if you want those things, I recommend We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver). This is a novel about how much your life can change in an hour. This a novel about the short sharp shock of where it ends.