Crime novel explores ‘how style and bombast trumps substance and truth’

Brad Smith treads carefully around 
sensitive subject of school shootings

Trying to build a fictitious story out of something horrible that happens all too often in real life can be challenging at best. Similar to Douglas Coupland’s 2003 novel, Hey Nostradamus!, the inciting incident in Brad Smith’s The Goliath Run is a fictional school shooting. But when Coupland wrote his book, school shootings were a much less frequent occurrence than they are these days.

In The Goliath Run, a very disturbed man with a gun kills 22 children, two teachers, and himself in a Pennsylvania schoolyard. A right-wing TV host named Sam Jackson seizes the moment to resuscitate his dying ratings and build a political career out of it. Jackson gains from the incredible loss. Jo Matheson isn’t as lucky.

Jo loses her eight-year-old goddaughter in the shooting. Infuriated by watching Jackson blame the parents for their kids’ deaths and profit from it, Jo retaliates, committing her own serious crime, which may just make things much worse.

When asked why he chose a school shooting, Smith said, “I needed something big to justify Jo’s actions. And there’s no bigger issue than school shootings, particularly given the reluctance of certain legislators to address gun control.”

But Smith also had to be careful with such a sensitive topic. “I had to tread lightly around the actual shooting, as it was painful even to write about. I didn’t want to sensationalize it for the sake of writing a book. However, it’s not something that should be swept beneath the rug just because it’s such an uncomfortable subject.”

The story is somewhat political in nature, as well, due in no small part to Sam Jackson using his newfound popularity to run for public office. Smith says, “It’s political in the sense that it addresses how style and bombast trumps substance and truth in the modern world. People get their news from sound bites and tweets.”

But is Jackson based on any specific politician or infotainment journalist? Not really, says Smith, who lives in southern Ontario.

Brad Smith
Brad Smith

“People assume he’s based on a certain president, but in fact he’s more of a composite of several talking heads from right-wing TV – ‘celebrities’ who use their soapbox (and lies) to sway public opinion … and line their own pockets.”

He also describes Jackson as “an empty shell – vain, insecure, cruel, a man who cares only for himself.” There’s not a lot of chance for redemption for him, though there is possibly more opportunity for Jo.

At the root of The Goliath Run is the idea that “spreading falsehoods is a big business these days,” as Smith puts it. This is especially true when you talk about school shootings, which are “rampant and getting more frequent every day.” But there is hope in the conversation.

For Smith, this inciting incident was important, as he believes open discussion is the key to healing wounds and building bridges that will assist in preventing real-life shootings from happening again.

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” he says.