Facing The Wind
By Julie Salamon
Reviewed by Kenny Brechner
Julie Saloman's Facing The Wind intimately recounts the responses of a group of people personally affected by a single horrific act. In1978 Brooklyn attorney Bob Rowe, killed his three children with a baseball bat, then called his wife at work, told her to come home because the children had a surprise for her, and then killed her with a bat.
Bob Rowe was accounted a charming, intelligent, dynamic man, an active, devoted father and loving husband. Unusual stress entered his life in the form of a severely handicapped child. Rowe was unmistakably in a psychotic, delusional state at the time of the murder, and his insanity defense went almost uncontested. Strikingly, however, his old self rapidly returned after his incarceration in mental health facilities, and he was released after less than two years of in house psychiatric care. Finally, he married again and had another child.
Rowe's fervent belief in himself as a victim rather than a perpetrator, his striving to extend his legal absolution into the personal, religious and societal sphere, his determination to be "welcomed back into society as a person of consequence, with a clean moral slate," as Saloman put it, stretched notions of forgiveness, responsibility, reconciliation, sanity, to their breaking point.
Saloman, a masterful journalist and recorder, directly engages the reader in Rowe's demand for absolution by affirming Rowe's sense of his life and actions as constituting a tragedy. There is a powerful precedent for this in Euripides' Herakles, which uncannily parallels the Rowe case. Herakles kills his beloved wife and children in the grips of a madness sent on him by an avenging Goddess. Euripides brilliantly explored the same themes which Saloman undertakes, the suspension of responsibility during madness, and the psychological matrix spun when sanity resumes in the aftermath. For Euripides, the suspension of responsibility supplied no absolution, the stain remained.
Saloman, inexplicably missing the opportunity of a lifetime, does not utilize the Herakles in her examination, nor does she use any other filters than those provided by her subjects, those of religion and psychology. It is no surprise therefore that she fails to consider that Rowe's normalcy and vibrancy, his adeptness at demanding absolution, of exploiting people whose psychology was attracted to trauma and victimization, along with his mechanical capacity for negation and horror, hearken far more to Hannah Arendt's notion of the banality of evil, Jean Paul Sarte's notion of Nausea, and Camus' notion of The Stranger, than to Rowe's biblical self referent of Job.
The Rowe case screams out for an existential lens, but Salamon, by subtly limiting her focal point to a narrow frame of reference which presupposes that faith and redemption are implicit in humanity, tricks the reader into digesting Rowe's crime and mistaking the subsequent upset stomach for genuine thoughtfulness.