Lardner's 'Stalking': hindsight and tragedy

October 29, 1995|By James Asher | James Asher,SUN STAFF

"The Stalking of Kristin," by George Lardner Jr. Atlantic Monthly Press. 340 pages. $23 George Lardner of the Washington Post has written a book I could not write. "The Stalking of Kristin" is about the murder of his child.

On May 30, 1992, Kristin Lardner was walking down Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. Her former lover sneaked up behind her and calmly put a bullet in her head. Fleeing down an alley, he returned suddenly and shot her twice more as she lay mortally wounded on the sidewalk. Minutes later, the killer himself would be dead of a suicide.

Yet again, sex and love and violence merged.

Mr. Lardner's book - an amplification of his first-person account that won him a Pulitzer Prize for the Post in 1993 - is a careful reconstruction of his daughter's last few months. He also unearths a pattern of indifference by a spate of social workers, judges, probation officers and others who failed to heed the warning signs in Michael Cartier, Kristin's ex-boyfriend.

At the time, Kristin's murder provoked a debate about the prevalence of domestic violence and what can be done about it. The system began to respond.

Mr. Lardner can take solace that, for a time, his daughter's death helped other women.

This book, as difficult as it must have been for Mr. Lardner to write, is plagued by problems, however. Stylistically, "The Stalking of Kristin" is repetitive. The refrain - recurrent to a flaw - is this: The system failed Kristin; Michael Cartier should have been in jail on the day of the killing for violating probation.

Mr. Lardner's book reads too much like an overly long newspaper article. There is no dramatic arch, no climax.

And then there is what I call the book's hindsightedness.

All those interviewed by Mr. Lardner - who approached them both as journalist and grieving father - opined sincerely about the tragedy of the event and the obvious failings of officialdom.

Their sentiments, I suspect, were exactly what Mr. Lardner wanted to hear.

In hindsight, everything is 20-20. Obviously, Cartier should have been jailed. Obviously, the signs of his impending rampage were evident.

Here's what's missing. In the work-a-day world of criminal justice, only the worst offenders get noticed. These days, viciousness has increased exponentially. Murderers kill for 52 cents. Fifthgraders slay fifth-graders. An odd look and an off-hand remark can become death sentences. Is it any wonder that Cartier, with his all-too-private rage, escaped notice until it was too late?

In his quest to find someone to blame, Mr. Lardner has overlooked what we all have become because of violence and viciousness.

Also, sprinkled here and there throughout the early pages of the book were hints that Kristin too was troubled. She was attracted to Cartier, a punker with graphic tattoos. Her tastes in music were extreme. One of her first boyfriends - she was in her early teens - introduced her to marijuana and other drugs. In her first year in art school in Boston, Kristin was disciplined for having fake IDs. She hung with the wrong crowd.

These things should have worried the Lardners. Instead, the author dismissed them as adolescent experimentations. Nowhere does Mr. Lardner write of the lack of guideposts or the moral compass that might have kept Kristin from the dangers she ultimately endured.

By casting Kristin's death as the fault of a hopelessly troubled man, abetted by a flawed, uncaring system, Mr. Lardner overlooks his family's role in helping her avoid the shoals that ultimately killed her.

James Asher is city editor of The Sun. Before, he was an editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer. He has been writing for newspapers for 25 years.

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