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3.5 stars. I finished this book and am conflicted in how I feel about it. The writing itself is evocative and interesting, but sometimes feels overwrought. The subject matter (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) is obviously serious and compelling. 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 found and a different person implicated. Nelson had finished a book of poetry that integrated her late aunt's own journal entries and Nelson's own impressions of her aunt and was closing in on her publication date when news of the reinvigorated investigation reached her. This book is largely Nelson's musings on her own life during this time period, memoir of some of her life growing up, and her impressions during and after the trial. I kept listening, and it was gripping, but at times I felt like a voyeur, at others Nelson's own recounting felt gratuitous (leaving the reader with the impression that she was focused on shocking or being particularly incisive, 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), but these are in passing and only briefly discussed, leaving the reader to finish the book feeling like something was missing and an opportunity for a deeper book was left unrealized.
Maggie Nelson has a vibrant mind and is a good writer. Unfortunately the reader of this book is all smugness and distorts the voice which is everything in a work like this. Read the Argonauts. Or listen to Nelson read it herself. Not smug. Not arch. A great book, The Argonauts.
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