Open Book

The November Criminals
(Doubleday, 2010) by Sam Munson, AB03

By Ruth E. Kott, AMí07

The November Criminals by Sam Munson, AB’03, starts with the protagonist, high-school senior Addison Schacht, philosophizing about the nature of “good” and “bad” in response to a University of Chicago application question. Throughout the rest of the novel, he spells out the myriad reasons why he’s a “bad person.” Living alone with his relatively unsuccessful sculptor father whom he sees as pathetic and weak—his mother died suddenly when he was young—Addison spends much of his time outside class selling marijuana; getting high with his best friend, Digger, whom he insists is not his girlfriend; and collecting Holocaust jokes. He also takes on a new project: figuring out who murdered his classmate Kevin Broadus, a “marching-band geek” and one of the few black kids in the high school’s gifted and talented program.

Addison often refers to his affection for the Aeneid—he owns three copies—which he reads every night before going to sleep. In this excerpt he reflects on why he relates to the epic.

Excerpted from The November Criminals:

Why, Addison, do you talk so much about the Aeneid? Just to lead up to some big display wherein I compare myself to a noble mythological character, you’re thinking. Maybe Aeneas himself! He’s a totally sweet dude. Maybe Anchises, who got raped by a female god. Maybe it should be Aeneas’s son Ascanius, because he’s innocent and good? Or better yet: one of the gods! That would be awesome, right? Let me disabuse you of that idea. I’m not much of an egotist, in any normal way, and the character in the Aeneid I most identify with is not morally splendid. He doesn’t even come up to the level of Helenus or anything. He’s not even a Trojan. He’s this vicious kid named Neoptolemus. A minor character. A Greek. I doubt you remember him: the angry young man so crushed by the circumstances of his birth (he’s Achilles’ bastard son) that he murders Priam, the venerable, aged king of Troy. Just some sociopath, you’re saying. His name means ‘New War,’ for God’s sake!

There’s more to him than that, though. Yeah, he’s a brutal murderer, but he’s kind of an interesting one: he’s always doing something related to but hideously different from what he intends.

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