The Patriot Game
A new look at the aftermath of a notorious post-9/11 hate crime
Anand Giridharadas’s The True American operates on the seemingly provocative question of who is more American: the Bangladeshi air-force officer who immigrates to Dallas, hires on as a gas-station cashier, and dreams of working with computers; or the Bud-swilling, tatted, truck-driving, meth-blasted Texas peckerwood who shot him as “revenge” for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Which man more encapsulates the true core of American ideals? And, really, what are America’s post-9/11 ideals? Is our place in the pecking order of social status in this country somehow mystically predetermined, or do we really choose who we become? These are the high-concept questions that Giridharadas’s true-crime chronicle of one of the first, and most notorious, post-9/11 hate crimes dances around and shimmies at. They lend a reliably portentous scrim of capital-M Meaning to his narrative account of Mark Stroman’s shooting rampage in a Texas gas station in the bewildering fall of 2001 that left two men dead and one wounded.
But here’s another question—one that is perhaps less (capital-I) Important but that continued to drum in my head while reading The True American: Why does a story about a murder rampage have to be couched inside such a thinky premise? It seems like the story that propels Giridharadas’s book would be compelling enough on its own. Unfortunately, the author’s attraction to an outsize clash-of-cultures narrative creates a rather ponderous interpretive backdrop to what would otherwise be a taut and straightforward crime story.
So instead of, say, The Thin Blue Line, the reader gets