Book Review: True Crime
“The world never accepted the unwanted child. Firmer than any scripture was the belief that no matter how ugly or horrid a child could be, at least the child’s mother would love it. Perhaps the worst damage to society had been the perpetuation of this myth…”Suzy
I had never heard of the book True Crime or the author Samantha Kolesnik until about a month ago when a bunch of people online started raving about her. The title and the cover, with its fake newspaper layout and stark black and white photos of dead bodies, led me to believe I was in for some sort of, well, true crime drama. And while it’s certainly that, it also moves beyond the routine tropes of crime dramas and into another realm of heart-stopping horror and heartbreaking tragedy. Simply put, I was not in any way prepared for the story I was about to read.
SUMMARY: Suzy and her brother, Lim, live with their abusive mother in a town where the stars don’t shine at night. Once the abuse becomes too much to handle, the two siblings embark on a sordid cross-country murder spree beginning with their mom. As the murder tally rises, Suzy’s mental state spirals into irredeemable madness.
I’ll be honest, because of the graphic content True Crime is incredibly hard to read, but I was enraptured the entire time. Like the macabre intrigue of a grisly crime scene photo I couldn’t look away, and I ended up reading it in one sitting (it helps that the book is a quick 143 pages). I will not go into detail here (because spoilers), just know that there are very uncomfortable and detailed scenes of sexual harassment and abuse as well as violence (towards people and animals).
The story is also written in two parts, with the split being right in the middle. It’s all first person from young Suzy’s point of view, but the first half was written more straightforward like a news story and the second half turned inward for much more introspection. I loved the prose style. Its mostly just-the-facts approach and lack of flowery language reminds me of Hemingway or Carver, just a lot more gruesome. And just like those great authors Kolesnik understands the value of each word on the page, and she is able to pack layers of meaning and inference in to a small space. I feel like this blunt style also made each shocking revelation and event that much more appalling. Throughout the story I also got vibes of Capote, McCarthy, and even Steinbeck. The story and characters are captivating, but the chilling beauty of the prose is really what catapults this book out of the ordinary. And even better this is Kolesnik’s debut novel!!
The main character Suzy is such an interesting one to me, and I’m pretty conflicted on how I really feel about her. One moment she’s ruthlessly bashing someone’s head in, and the next she’s bemoaning the woes of the world and her place in it. But honestly, despite her relentlessly cruel nature, I felt a lot of sympathy for her. She’s only a young teen in the story and already so many horrible things have happened in her life, many of the disturbing deeds perpetrated by those closest to her (such as her mother). I desperately wanted a better life for her when I was reading, and I felt sick to my stomach in many parts of the book at the things done to her.
There are some bright lights in the second half of the book – moments and characters that make it seem like things might work out for Suzy. But the overwhelming majority of the book is dark, grim, and depressingly nihilistic. Below are some quotes to give you a since of Suzy’s outlook on life:
“There were people who hurt others thinking others would hurt them. And then there were people who hurt others knowing others wouldn’t hurt them back. The world was all comprised of people just causing hurt” (Kolesnik 97)
“But what good was love, anyway…Alice was loved. Love never helped her. Love never helped anyone, did it? Love was a complication” (Kolesnik 131)
True Crime explores the darkest parts of humanity, ripping it out of the shadows and thrusting it into stark, bare light. It’s a story that left me feeling unclean, shaken, and sad at the end. This may have been a work of fiction, but my heart hangs heavy knowing the kind of evils written about here actually do exist in the world. That being said, it’s also a book that I will always remember. It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you can stomach it I think you will (“enjoy” feels like the wrong word here) appreciate the ride.
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