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i loved this book even though the subject matter was dark. partly it was because i identified so strongly with how her mind seemed to be processing the past and the present. if you are looking to read a straightforward true crime then this isnt for you. it has a very simular feel to "the fact of a body " in that its a multilayered inquiry into tragedy and how it resonates throughout the lives of the people involved within it. she captures so well how these things can unroot us from the ground we stand upon. my favourite quote reflecting this is "a dark crescent of land, where suffering is essentially meaningless, where the present collapses into the past without warning..............where grief lasts forever and its force never fades"
In 1969 Nelson's Aunt Jane was brutally murdered and little progress was made on the case. Then in 2004 Nelson's mother was told that a suspect was in custody. Nelson's book follows the case from this point through to the suspect's trial. Her book is not a dry or sensationalist true crime narrative rather it is a thoughtful, beautifully written set of meditations on the loss of her aunt, the impact on her family, grief and the ways in which the formal justice system can or cannot address these things. The more of Nelson's work I've read the more impressed by her I am, an excellent piece.
I much prefer Ms Nelson's JANE, her earlier book about her aunt Jane's murder. I was disappointed with The Red Parts as it is so intellectual and less about the heart. That said, Ms Nelson is a wonderful writer and I would recommend anything that she puts pen to.
Maggie Nelson never met her aunt Jane - Jane was murdered years before Maggie was born. Nevertheless, when the cold case unexpectedly breaks open decades later by new DNA evidence and a suspect is arrested, Maggie decides she must "bear witness" to the trial. She travels from NYC to Michigan to reunite with her mother, her grandfather, and other family to witness the proceedings.
This could have been compelling but it mostly fails for me because the author's lack of focus and self-indulgence are too much of a distraction. There's no other way to say it: she comes off as a self-centered, narcissistic drama queen. She somehow takes a story about her murdered aunt and the man on trial for it, and makes it all about herself. Her avowed purpose was to "bear witness" to the trial, but she actually seems to have been rather bored by the trial, provides only scant detail about it, and instead treats us all to long, meandering daydreams about her lovers, ex-lovers, books she's read, other books she's written, childhood anecdotes, etc. There's an incredible human drama unfolding around her in this case, but most of it takes a back seat to what Nelson really cares about: her own precious insights and memories about tangential matters.
There are also some episodes of self-aggrandizement that don't ring true. There are times when Nelson represents that she's so distraught by her loss that goes off alone and does things like walk around in the pouring rain, or lay down in the mud staring at the sky just thinking, thinking... But remember that Nelson's aunt died before she was born. She never knew her. Now, if an aunt or uncle I never knew was murdered, I'm sure I'd feel some sorrow over that and I'd especially feel sympathy for my parents, grandparents and other relatives who were more directly affected by it. But would that murder really haunt me throughout my life, would it cause me to occasionally lay down in the mud and stare at the sky? Of course not. It was during these moments of The Red Parts where the term "drama queen" comes to mind.
I think part of my problem with this book is that the blurb lead me to believe it was something else than what it intends to be, but part is the book itself. I first heard of this book in a review of Michigan Murders or Terror in Ypsilanti. That reviewer suggested it was another angle on the same events (at least one of them), but in the same true crime non fiction way. The blurb backs this up. It is the story of the trial decades later by the niece that never knew Jane Mixer, the not John Norman Collins victim killed amidst the series that long ago summer. Instead, this is some weird personal journey intermixed sometimes with the trial. There are literary quotes mixed in and they just seem to say look I'm literate despite being royally screwed up in the head. There is not meat to this story. I don't really know anything I didn't about the trial or the feelings of the Mixer family. So many unanswered questions. But, I don't think they were meant to be answered so I don't give this book a one. But even still it was a hodge podge of bad decisions, strange visions, personal loss and sometimes the trial.
It's a mix of true crime, family memoir, and trial drama rolled into one. The author's aunt Jane, her mother's sister, was murdered and thought to have been the victim of a serial killer in Michigan, although her death was never officially tied to that series. Some 20+ years later the family gets a call from a detective informing them they are about to arrest a suspect who they believe is the perpetrator based on newly uncovered DNA evidence collected at the crime scene. The reopening of the case throws the surviving family members into the midst of renewed questions, grief, and pain. The author delves into it all including a somewhat fractured family past and other tragedies they lived through in the intervening years. They attend the trial of the new suspect and sit through some pretty unseemly evidentiary testimony and gruesome autopsy photographs. Through it all the author takes you on her personal struggles with grief, reconciling conflicting emotions about her relationships with her mother, father, step-father, and sister, and her attempt to honor the memory and life of her aunt, who was killed before she was born. Well done book. Different.
This is not a true crime book in the general sense. It's a memoir of a woman dealing with the family trauma of a murder trial. The murder itself is far removed in time, the author never met the victim, who would have been her aunt. Still, it's gripping stuff. Incredibly well-written, moving, terrifying, lyrical. I'm glad I read it, and am not sure that any other book will be as satisfying for a while after this.