Last year at this time, Boston Globe reporters Scott Helman and Jenna Russell had no idea that they would wind up collaborating on a 300-plus page project on the foulest single tragedy in recent local history. That sudden change of course considered, they’ve accomplished a major feat with Long Mile Home: Boston Under Attack, the City’s Courageous Recovery, and the Epic Hunt for Justice, their essential new volume on the bombing of the Boston Marathon.
Like other compelling splintered narratives, Long Mile Home strings together several remarkable stories–some of which have been previously featured, in part, by the Globe over the past 12 months–about ordinary people facing extraordinary challenges. The book offers a lot of overall perspective, as well as several individual perspectives, the latter including graphic accounts of many who were closely impacted by the bombing, from good Samaritans to runners and responders. On top of that, the details are well-reported, right down to race logistics and tales of drunken revelry that come with every Patriot’s Day in Boston.
At times, some of the specifics unwind into awkwardly gratuitous descriptions: Governor Deval Patrick getting called to action while “waiting to pay for his takeout order at [a] Thai restaurant”; their explaining dubstep as “a type of electronic dance music” that “features heavy, driving bass lines and bass ‘drops,’ when the percussion stops short and plunges the song into silence before resuming with increased intensity.” Overall, though, the vivid color is warranted as Helman and Russell illustrate the drama that unfolded from the finish line to trauma centers and rehab wards.
In some of the most touching moments, the authors also return us to the days, minutes, and seconds before the siege on Boylston Street with scenes ranging from children cheering on the sidelines for their passing parents to a cop harassing a runner for pissing in the woods–stories that all naturally give way to metaphors and lessons without the authors ever having to lead. Whether you’re familiar with most of the prior reporting that appears in Mile Home or not, a lot of revelations will likely prove unsettling–a younger and apparently more human Dzhokhar Tsarnaev partying at the 2012 marathon; last year’s race opening with a moment of silence for victims of the Newtown massacre.
While the writers, for better or worse, offer all the necessary tools for hero worship–right down to protagonist profiles of victims and authorities–tone-wise, Long Mile Home is far from a “Boston Strong” rally cry. For that Russell and Helman deserve credit, as they remained objective enough to let readers connect dots wherever questions still outnumber answers. Because of that prudence, skeptics obsessed with getting to the bottom of dangling oddities–the FBI’s reluctance to disclose much of anything; the preceding and mysterious murder of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s friends in Waltham–won’t find too much red meat here.
There’s no doubt that Long Mile Home will and should end up on bookshelves all across Greater Boston, in part as a symbolic acknowledgment and, in many cases, also as the first significant piece of the puzzle explaining what the hell happened at the 2013 marathon, and in the months before and after. It’s not the whole story, and for all we know, some key elements may still shift as further information surfaces. But even though the final chapter won’t be written about this saga for decades, if not longer, Helman and Russell have succeeded in delivering a first sweeping look at the day that changed April forever.
THE DIG ASKED HELMAN AND RUSSELL A SINGLE QUESTION ABOUT THEIR HERCULEAN EFFORT. READ THEIR ANSWERS HERE …
DigBoston News+Features Editor Chris Faraone is the author of five books including his account of the week following last year’s bombings, Heartbreak Hell: Searching for sanity in Boston through a week of tragedy & terror. You can find it on Amazon or read it for free on any device at heartbreakhell.com.