Author: Maggie Nelson
Rating: 3 Stars
Review By: Shana
Upon finishing this book, I was and remain quite conflicted in how I feel about it. The writing itself is evocative and interesting. The subject matter is clearly serious and compelling - a sort of wandering exploration of how a murder impacts a family, the course of a trial, how certain events intersected with the author's life at the time. But the writing itself, though evocative and interesting, sometimes feels overwrought.
Nelson's maternal aunt was murdered in the late 1960s (before Nelson was born), and her murder was thought to be committed by a serial killer. However, around 2004, a DNA match was identified and a different person implicated in the killing. As this momentous discovery was being made, Nelson had finished a book of poetry that integrated her late aunt's own journal entries with Nelson's personal impressions of her aunt, and the publication date for that book was looming. The news of the jumpstarted investigation stunned Nelson.
The present book is the result of that revelation and covers the subsequent months and eventual trial of her aunt's murderer. It is largely a combination of Nelson's musings on her own life during this time period, memoir of parts of her life growing up, and her impressions during and after the trial. While I stayed the course in the book, there were times that, though gripping, I felt like a voyeur. At other times, Nelson's own recounting felt gratuitous (leaving the reader with the impression that she was focused on shocking, and not merely being honest).
There are interesting insights throughout and some important points made, including our national appetite for shows depicting heinous crimes, and the disproportionate value we place on pretty, white deaths as opposed to the deaths of brown people. Unfortunately, these are in passing and only briefly discussed. Had the book been wholly personal memoir, this would work fine. But by mentioning such issues in the first place, it left this reader to finish the book feeling like something was missing and an opportunity for a more profound exploration left unrealized.
My love of reading was sparked in 3rd grade by the promise of personal pan pizzas via the BOOK IT! Program. Hmmmm... any chance that someone might give adults free food for reading? Asking for a friend...