Winner of the Dzanc Books Prize for Fiction
An Indies Introduce pick
"Hugely important, hauntingly brutal—Englehardt has just announced himself as one of America’s most talented emerging writers." —Kirkus starred review
Bloomland opens during finals week at a fictional southern university, when a student walks into the library with his roommate’s semi-automatic rifle and opens fire. When he stops shooting, twelve people are dead.
In this richly textured debut, John Englehardt explores how the origin and aftermath of the shooting impacts the lives of three characters: a disillusioned student, a grieving professor, and a young man whose valuation of fear and disconnection funnels him into the role of the aggressor. As the community wrestles with the fallout, Bloomland interrogates social and cultural dysfunction in a nation where mass violence has become all too familiar.
Profound and deeply nuanced, Bloomland is a dazzling debut for fans of Denis Johnson and We Need to Talk About Kevin.
Englehardt's potent debut opens on a quiet day at Ozarka University in Arkansas, as a gunman opens fire in the crowded library, leaving 12 dead and many more wounded. The arc of the tragedy the lives it interrupts and the ruin left in its wake follows three characters: Eddie, an adjunct English professor at Ozarka whose wife, Casey, is killed in the shooting; Rose, one of Eddie's undergraduate students, with a history of trauma; and Eli, the shooter himself. The story is told in the second person about the three main characters, narrated by Dr. Bressinger, a creative writing professor who is friends with Eddie and taught Eli. Eddie's attempts to salvage his faltering marriage and Rose's attempts to become at ease with herself are disrupted by the shooting, which drives them both into socially isolating grief. And Eli's fatalistic nihilism proves untenable in prison. Engelhardt manages to avoid romanticizing Eli's condition, but the reader is left with a void as to his motivations. "Something was missing," Eli states, years after the shooting, "and the shooting was my way of trying to get it back." Though it may leave some readers unsatisfied, it feels like an apt final chord in a story centered around a mass shooting. Englehardt's debut poses timely, difficult questions.