The Red Parts: A Memoir of a Trial
Maggie Nelson wrote a book called Jane: A Murder about the brutal murder of her aunt allegedly by a serial killer who was targeting women in Michigan in the late seventies. As she was finalizing the book, and getting ready to go on a book tour to promote it her family received a call from the police. They had new information on Jane’s murder and they now believed the man long thought to have killed Jane hadn’t and instead another man, who’s DNA had been found on her body, was being arrested.
This is a book about the trail of this new suspect. Its about it means for a family to relive the grief of loss, and what it means to be a writer both documenting, and living through, the murder trial of a loved one.
This being Nelson, its about more than that, too. Its about modern policing, and the use and misuse of DNA evidence. Its about how you move on when someone you love is killed. Its about what it means to go home, or if you even can.
I read Jane: A Murder and The Red Parts back to back in the span of a weekend. If you’ve any interest in strong writing or crime, I suggest you do too.
Jane: A Murder
Maggie Nelson is one of my favorite writers. Her book the Argonauts knocked me on my ass. Its still one of my go-to gift books. I’ve read almost everything she has written and honestly, you can’t go wrong. But if you want to start somewhere really excellent, I suggest the pairing of this book, Jane: A Murder and its pseudo-sequel, The Red Parts.
Nelson’s aunt, Jane, was a free spirit in a conservative town, who went on to college and then law school, only to be brutally murdered while on her way home to visit her family.
Nelson never knew Jane, she was born after Jane’s death, but the life that Jane could have had haunts Nelson’s family. As a means of making sense of it, Nelson goes on a search to understand who Jane was, what her death did to her family, and who killed her.
This book is deeply researched, whip smart, and so compelling I could hardly put it down. It’s the story of a woman who was brutally murdered. Who she was, and what she left behind, but its also a story about sexism and misogyny; ambition and trauma. I was blown away.
Who Is Vera Kelly
A clever spy novel that doubles as a coming out story, while also being an disection of gender and sexuality in 1950-60s American and is an subtle exposition of the catastrophic effects of U.S. involvement in Latin America. Many spy novelists are ostensibly liberals (LeCarre, Steinhauer come to mind) who use the genre to critique the lies and machinations of Western intelligence agencies. But few, if any spy novels address gender and sexuality, and none that I am aware have used the way the deceptions forced on some by the closets of 1950s America could turn into the skills to be a spy for the CIA.
If you’re a fan of the genre, (and I certainly am) its refreshing to see that you can keep the double crosses and international intrigue, while pushing thing in a new direction staring complex queer and female protagonists.
Recommended for the enthusiast.
A thriller about a dead child and a battered woman that has a plot twist that’s almost too clever. The writing is excellent, and the pacing in the first two third of the book feels like a perfect mix of long periods of dread and sorrow punctuated by short bits of joy or violence. This isn’t a perfect book, the bad guy, when he arrives is almost too bad, and while the first plot twist is genuinely surprising and well done, future plots twists feel a bit more forced.
Still, if you can handle some of the rougher stuff here (domestic abuse, dead kid) then this is a real top notch thriller. I finished it in a day.
Recommended for the enthusiast.
There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce
“I do whatever I want because I could die any minute
I don’t mean YOLO I mean they are hunting me”
This book is a gut punch. Full of lines like the above, angry and wounded. But it is also full of moments of real tenderness and intimacy, and of humor, and of things I can’t really name or understand but still think are beautiful.
I don’t read that much modern poetry, but multiple people recommended this one to me and I’m so glad they did. Timely and timeless, I think people will be reading this slim volume for many years to come.
The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
I read the God of Small Things almost fifteen years ago, so let’s be honest, my memory is a bit hazy. I remember being blown away that it was a first novel, but in hindsight, that may have been naïve. Its complex narrative structure, following twins in two parallel story lines, full throated investigation into the social ills of India, including the caste system, misogyny, and more, and its gorgeous prose could only have been the work of someone who labored over every page for years and years as an inspiring novelist would. I remember feeling like the prose was beautiful and the sense of place illuminating, but the political message a bit too polemic. Still, an important book on the nature of love and politics in India. Worth your time,
A kind of sensationalistic kind of interesting novel of Brazilian street kid who goes on to become a drug lord of his favela before losing it all to betrayal, hubris and paranoia. Not a particularly new take on the story of the drug dealer (i.e. basically Scarface in Sao Paolo) but interesting none the less for the local detail on live in the poorest neighborhoods of Brazil.
Melo appears to know the world she describes, and the style of book (it devoid of standard reference points for changes in narrator, dialogue, etc) is interesting, just not interesting enough to overcome what for me felt like a clichéd plot.