The second of the two novels by Andy Nowicki is The Columbine Pilgrim. Yes, that Columbine, the high school in Littleton, Colorado, where teenagers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went on a killing spree of their fellow students on April 20, 1999. Like Nowicki’s previous novella, The Columbine Pilgrim is divided into two parts. The beginning is told from the first person perspective of the book’s central character, Tony Meander, and the second part is written in the form of a fictitious magazine article describing and analyzing the deeds for which Meander eventually becomes infamous.
Tony Meander is a thirty-three year old doctoral student in the process of doing his dissertation on the philosophy of Nietzsche. He begins preparing to attend the upcoming fifteen-year reunion of his high school class. Tony’s description of the events in his life that will lead him towards that fateful evening demonstrate for the reader the mental unraveling to which he has succumbed. Tony takes a trip to Littleton for the purpose of paying a visit to Columbine, an event with which he has become obsessed. The two teenaged mass murderers, Harris and Klebold, have become his heroes and role models. Along the way he reflects on the torments to which he was subjected by the jocks and cheerleaders during his own days as a high school geek. Meander’s reflections are a combination of memories, deranged fantasies, and outright delusions. He imagines himself to be on a guided tour in a van full of fellow pilgrims to Columbine. There are twelve tourists in the van who collectively symbolize Christ’s Twelve Apostles. As the tourists visit the scenes where Harris and Klebold walked the earth during their final days, a tour guide best described as a kind of Charles Manson-like psychopathic hippie hails the achievements of the two boys. The Burger King where the boys placed an order the day before the massacre is treated as a kind of holy site by the tourists. They bow their heads reverently as they drive past the house where Eric Harris resided. The tour guide hails Harris and Klebold as fulfillments of Nietzsche’s prophecy concerning the ideal ubermensch to come. Of course, this fantasy that Tony Meander concocts reflects his own wish for the two boys to receive the recognition and admiration he feels has been wrongfully denied them by a corrupted world that just doesn’t understand.
The second part of the book describes the process by which Tony Meander eventually went over the edge by drawing on the accounts of those who knew him along the way. Meander is depicted as a bright and conscientious if socially awkward loner, churchgoer, and academic whose behavior becomes increasingly bizarre. He abandons his doctoral studies just as he is about to complete his curriculum, and seemingly disappears until he reemerges on the night of his class reunion. The reader is left wondering to what degree Tony’s description of his pilgrimage to Columbine is in fact genuine. Clearly, some of it is not. But is the trip itself merely another product of his deranged inner world? Tony’s clear break with reality leaves the reader wondering.
Without giving away the ending, it is sufficient to say that Tony Meander’s former antagonists get to experience horrific retribution. Tony enacts a particularly ironic form of vengeance upon a former classmate who once teased him for allegedly being a “faggot.” A former stuck-up cheerleader who taunted Tony mercilessly during their youths lives to eat her former words in a Rosemary’s Baby kind of way. Read the book and you’ll see what I mean.