On October 25, 2017, Arizona District Judge William LaFortune removed a manslaughter case against former officer Betty Shelby. Last year, Shelby shot and killed Terence Crutcher during a traffic stop and was acquitted of manslaughter. Shelby not only evaded justice (or justice evaded her) but now it’s legally as if nothing ever happened. The fact that the charge brought against Shelby was manslaughter—not murder, which it most certainly was—is absurd and an egregious abuse of power.
Terence Crutcher’s murder is just an instance in the epidemic of police brutality and excessive use of force, themes dealt with in Peter S. Rush’s debut novel Wild World. Though Wild World is set in the ‘70s, it brings to light parallels between that era’s cultural and political climate and today’s tempestuous climate: peaceful protestors are vilified by the government and police officers beat and sometimes kill nonviolent suspects without repercussion.
Today, officers kill black men and women often without indictment. In 1970, National Guard troops at Kent State University unloaded sixty-seven rounds over thirteen seconds, killing four, paralyzing one, and wounding eight peaceful protestors. As in Shelby’s case, no criminal convictions were found against the eight indicted troops who murdered and maimed unarmed people.
The novel begins essentially as the shots were fired in Ohio. Steve Logan and his partner Roxy Fisher, students at Brown University, witness the aftermath on television and the events propel the two onto different paths. Steve, whose plan was to enroll in law school, instead enlists in the Providence police academy hoping to fix the problems from the inside out. Roxy, however, redoubles her efforts as a peaceful protestor. Steve faces opposition from the corrupt members of the Providence police force, and Steve is caught between his own morality and the dangers of going against the grain.
The book clips along nicely until it’s inevitable conclusion. Rush’s greatest strength as a writer is his celerity. He is able to transition from scene to scene swiftly, propelling the plot forward at a rapid rate. Though the cinematic, smash-cut style of movement can be jarring at times, overall it is a virtue that the novel never feels bogged down or goes too long before plot or character revelations.
Despite its relevance and brisk speed, the book isn’t without its flaws.
The novel is composed of fifteen chapters, all of which take their names from popular music of the era. Music purports to be of great significance to the book (the title Wild World comes from Yusef Stevens’ song of the same name), but in execution, the chapter headings are nothing more than epigraphs. It seems like a missed opportunity to add another layer to the story telling.
Perhaps the largest hindrance to the novel is the relationship between Steve and Roxy. Often conflict between the two is erased by hairpin turns into explosions of lust that are at best a deflection of dramatic tension and at worst a problematic and preposterous fantasy. For instance, in one scene around the midpoint of the book, Roxy expresses her fears that their relationship is falling apart, then she gaslights herself into believing she’s being irrational and takes her clothes off.
“Are you sure you love me? … I’m such a bitch sometimes… It’s my own silly emotions…Oh, Steve, I know I’m insecure, but I know I won’t feel that way tomorrow because these emotions interfere with my love for you, and that love will overcome those fears.”
For all of the philosophical and emotional differences between Steve and Roxy, their sexual relationship remains robust until the third act when the tension between them finally manifests itself in their physicality. But Rush pulls his punches in the arc and none of Steve’s transgressions toward Roxy impact their ending in a meaningful way.
Ultimately, Wild World, for all its supposed conflict and turmoil, ends neatly, reminding its reader this is a work of fiction with a happy ending. Real life, as the Terence Crutcher case shows, rarely happens that way.
Wild World by Peter S. Rush
Prior Manor Press
Published August 31, 2017