Some of the early reviews on my book were surprised at the ferocity with which some of the characters treat each other. They had never seen such acts of brutality as are portrayed in The Playground. I was surprised by their reactions. I saw such things on many occasions when I was in elementary school.
I went to a very average elementary school in a middle-class suburb of Phoenix. This was a nice neighborhood. A great place to be a kid. I would play football in the streets with my brothers and our friends. We would roam the area for hours on our bikes, unafraid. But what I recall from school more than anything are the vicious attacks that boy would occasionally launch against boy. And it was always the boys. I remember the janitor hosing pools of blood littered with hair from fighting boys. I remember the bite marks on my friend’s shoulder from an attack he received walking home with a friend. I remember words of disagreement turning to violence so fast that even the attackers seemed surprised, the determined looks of bestial aggression on faces after a fight. I remember how amusing this seemed to the spectators at the time and how little attention our principal paid to all of it. All of this is still real.
I didn’t have to exaggerate the violence in this book starring children beyond anything I’d already seen on my playground or on the streets of my white-collar neighborhood. Much of this is almost a memoir of what I saw as a young boy at an ordinary elementary school. Perhaps my experience was anomalous. But I doubt it.
Now that we’re adults, so many of us think that bullying is something relegated to the sub-world of children. Adults aren’t bullied, are they? I think so. But surely adults don’t come after their peers with such a terrible will to make them prey? Sure they do. That’s why I think the way these children attack each other in this book isn’t relevant, even if it is accurate to what I saw as a boy. This isn’t a book about children at all.