This is memoir by Maggie Nelson, who I’ve previously read her newer book The Argonauts. This book is from 2009. In this memoir, which is not at all structured like a traditional memoir, follow Nelson in the years after she’s published a poetry collection called Jane which is about the murder of her aunt, and included decolletage of her aunt’s diaries cut into various of the poems. There’s a moment where Nelson tells us how violating it feels to have someone read a diary when they’re living, but that she doesn’t feel that way when the person is dead.
So this book is about the ways in which the murder of her aunt went from subject family grief, trauma, lore, and poetry into that of cold case, now reopened. The murder has become a subject of a 48 Hours investigation, there’s a DNA profile created, and a suspect is arrested. So this whole book follows all those cases, but less about the case (although you get the case) and more about the survivorship, the emotional toll, and the various ways in which the case and her involvement in it affected her life and everyone in her family. It also becomes a musing on the complicated nature and relationship we have with the criminal justice system.
It’s a really good book because it feels very open and honest, but really digs into both the case, the toll, the trial, and her take as a family member. It’s harrowing, but it’s also uniquely positioned to account for what I feel is often unaccounted for in true crime books. It’s an earnest literary memoir on what is not a traditionally memoir subject.