[Welcome Ethan Brown and Host Suzanne] [As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]
I am honored to host today’s FDL Book Salon featuring Ethan Brown and his latest book, Shake The Devil Off: A True Story of the Murder That Rocked New Orleans. Ethan’s previous book, Snitch, was also featured on an FDL Book Salon and it is good to welcome him back..
Don’t let the subject matter of this book throw you off — this is much more than a true-crime book about a gruesome murder-suicide in post-Katrina New Orleans. The actual murder-suicide is the least of what this book is about. It is the story of undiagnosed and untreated PTSD, Katrina, the failures of the American safety net, the ever-increasing violence in post-Katrina New Orleans as the city struggles to survive, and the writing of the story itself. All of these intersect at the crossroads of these deaths. Ethan talked to those who knew Zackery Bowen and Addie Hall, their family, friends, co-workers, and the soldiers Zack served with — to try to find out the why.
The why hooked me and it should hook you too.
This is the story of how the military cut loose a decorated Iraq War combat veteran, with no health care and no benefits, after he exhibited symptoms of significant mental health problems. They issued him a General (Under Honorable Conditions) Discharge in spite of Zack being recommended for an Honorable Discharge. That veteran with undiagnosed PTSD returns to New Orleans, tries to pick up the pieces of his life in the French Quarter, struggles to hold everything together, including himself, while everything falls apart around him — and then Katrina hits.
Ethan dove into that why — the first half of the book examines Zackery Bowen’s life up to the one-word sentence describing the killing of Addie Hall. Zackery dismembers her body and jumps off a hotel roof. The cops find a note in his pocket confessing to killing Addie and telling them where he had hidden her body.
It is also the story of Ethan’s journey on that road to why. Just as Truman Capote did when researching In Cold Blood, Ethan moved to New Orleans and immersed himself in not only the hunt to understand what happened and why but also the culture of The Quartericans (as Addie called those who lived in the French Quarter) that is so much a part of this life (and death) in New Orleans.
There are no lurid details here. Ethan reports with a sensitivity that other coverage lacked.
Beyond the sad story of Zack and Addie, and those left behind to mourn them, there is a broader problem among returning vets, as detailed in this Rolling Stone article about the Fort Carson murder spree and this CBS report on the increasing numbers of suicides by soldiers. PTSD and the problems created by it are not going away and will continue to worsen unless they are acknowledged and properly responded to by our government.
As Lana, Zack’s wife, said:
The government is sending hundreds of thousands of little girls and boys off to war and not taking care of them. The gravity of what Zack did is unusual. But that it happened is not.
Not everyone who reads this book will enjoy it but some people need to read it, especially those in the White House, the Pentagon and the VA, and New Orleans’ government.
Ethan Brown has written for New York magazine, The New York Observer, Wired, Vibe, The Independent, GQ, Rolling Stone, Details, The Guardian, and The Village Voice, among other publications. He is the author of two previous books, Queens Reigns Supreme and Snitch.
Ethan is joining us in the comments. We are hoping for a lively discussion so ask questions and tell us what you think.