Review: Ryan D'Agostino's 'The Rising' is compelling story

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Posted: Sep 14, 2015 2:48 PM
Review: Ryan D'Agostino's 'The Rising' is compelling story

"The Rising: Murder, Heartbreak, and the Power of Human Resilience in an American Town" (Crown), by Ryan D'Agostino

With time, access and superior writing and observing skills, a talented journalist can recreate a searing family tragedy that allows readers to analyze, ponder and learn from it. That's what Ryan D'Agostino has done in "The Rising: Murder, Heartbreak, and the Power of Human Resilience in an American Town."

D'Agostino grew up in West Hartford, Connecticut, not far from where two men on a rainy early morning in July 2007 broke into the home of the Petit family. The men tortured and killed Bill Petit's wife and two daughters, and beat Petit with a baseball bat before setting the house on fire. Petit escaped and survived.

Six years later, he was remarried — to a woman 20 years his junior — and the father of a baby boy.

Through his years of painstaking research (he covered both trials and received unmatched access to friends and family) D'Agostino tells the story of Petit's journey. We learn about the man, as well as the power of family and community and, along the way, we see evil and its opposite.

"When a man loses everything the way Bill has, there is a danger of falling to a place where his heart will be rendered dark and useless," D'Agostino writes. But if he keeps telling people about his wife and daughters, and "if he has the faith that people will listen to him and will go out and do one kind thing, maybe the hole will start to fill in."

It's hard to criticize the story of a man like Petit — who has survived horrors no one should endure. But either Petit, his wife and children truly were perfect human beings or D'Agostino simply chose to veer from any negatives. In fact, everyone but the criminals and their lawyers comes across here as perfect — kind, good, unfailingly generous. But perhaps that's the price of access.

Nevertheless, D'Agostino's book is a thought-provoking, insightful and highly compelling read.