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While They Slept: An Inquiry into the Murder of a Family

2.91  ·  Rating Details  ·  693 Ratings  ·  171 Reviews
Early on an April morning, eighteen-year-old Billy Frank Gilley, Jr., killed his sleeping parents. Surprised in the act by his younger sister, Becky, he turned on her as well. Billy then climbed the stairs to the bedroom of his other sister, Jody, and said, “We’re free.” But is one ever free after an unredeemable act of violence? In this mesmerizing book–based on interview ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published November 24th 2009 by Random House (first published 2008)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,502)
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This is the true story of a teen who kills his parents after enduring years of physical and emotional abuse. Billy Gilley imagines a life of freedom along with his sister Jody, whom he supposedly harbors incestuous feelings toward. Unfortunately, in the process of murdering his parents, he also murders his youngest sister when she refuses to stay upstairs where he brings her after she wakes up (probably because of the violence). Jody somehow manages to not only survive this tragedy but to thrive ...more
Jul 13, 2008 fleegan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This was (or so I thought) about the 1984 slaying of the Gilley family by their son, Billy Gilley. Billy Gilley killed his mom, dad, and little sister Becky with a baseball bat. He did this in order to save himself and his other sister Jody from further abuse by their parents. He killed Becky because she wouldn't stay in her room while he was killing the mom and dad.

I would have probably enjoyed this book more if the author herself had not imposed her own life story and dysfuntional family into
Aug 06, 2008 Megan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: someone who doesn't love In Cold Blood
Disappointing, my friends, disappointing. This was not a book about the murder of a family so much as a chance for Kathryn Harrison to again muse on her own messed-up family life. Uh, Kathryn, you already wrote a disturbing memoir about that, and I read it, and I was properly disturbed and impressed and awed. I did not need to read a re-hash of it all. Not to mention that someone needed to do some editing of this book. Here is an actual sentence from the book:

A generation earlier, Billy's patern
Apr 26, 2009 Brenna rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: unfinished
When she was 20 years old, author Kathryn Harrison's estranged father kissed her on the lips - with tongue.

When she was 16 years old, subject Jody Gilley awoke when she heard her younger sister being murdered by her older brother, after he had already bludgeoned both of their parents to death.

Kathryn Harrison, in While They Slept, uses these traumatic events to draw a comparison between herself and Jody Gilley: "Both she and I had a previous self who no longer exists."

The trouble with this, of c
Oct 19, 2011 Majanka rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I don’t usually read non-fiction novels, and the true crime genre is new to me as well. But when I saw this book in my local bookstore at a significant discount (three thrillers/true crime books for 10 euros), I was drawn to it like a bee is to honey. I hadn’t heard about this case before, and the name Billy Gilley didn’t ring a bell. But I had heard about other cases in which a young boy slaughters his entire family, driven to the verge of madness by a vast ray of causes, be it abuse, neglect o ...more
Jun 22, 2008 Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: truecrime
Very fine book about a killing in the family. I will confess to being a little nervous at the beginning, as Kathryn Harrison talked a lot about herself and her incestuous relationship with her father, and I was afraid we were veering into "Enough about me, what do you think of me" territory. But my fears turned out to be unfounded, as Harrison used her own story only to segue into that of the book's subjects: Billy, the son who killed his abusive parents and his younger sister; and Jody, the dau ...more
Jan 24, 2009 Judith rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I have really enjoyed this author's past works, so i expected good things. This is a true story of a boy who beat his parents and younger sister to death after a childhood of mental and physical abuse. He spared his older sister, thus the story relates both the sister and the boy's versions of the incident, their childhood, and the boy's subsequent life in prison. The story should have been fascinating, particularly since the author was covering all the angles. However, the book is bogged down i ...more
Mar 03, 2009 Caroline rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I very much wanted to enjoy this book. Truman Capote is my hero and I thought this might be a modern-day homage to 'In Cold Blood.' However, the horrible Ms. Harrison, a narcissist if there ever were one, inserts herself and her CHOICE to bed her father when she was an adult into every other page of this story. How having your entire family murdered by a brother who viewed you as being complicit is anything like embarking on an affair with your estranged father is beyond me. I wanted to know so ...more
May 07, 2009 Elaine rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
If you are hoping to read this, like I hoped, without having to relive Kathryn Harrison's oft mined trauma (as I'm sure you know--because all of her writing dwells on this topic--Kathryn Harrison was involved in a 4 year incestuous relationship with her biological father), don't read this book. Harrison's personal trauma was an unnecessary and unwelcome intrusion into this story. And the more she intrudes, the more awkward, expository, and tedious her writing becomes.
Cathy Howland
Dec 19, 2013 Cathy Howland rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Synopsis: Me, me, me, horrible tragedy, me some more, bad things happen to other people (so who really cares) , me. And then me.
Mar 01, 2009 Jeanette rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one really
id never heard of this but its requested on my book swap and i got it for $2 at the airport.

i have a few problems with it. kathryn harrison previously wrote books on her own experiences with abuse, which i have not read and know only about from this book. in this book before telling the story of which she is supposed to be writing, she talks about herself. a lot. and it comes across that when she was 20, she met her dad, he tongue kissed her at the airport and shes been a mess ever since.

In late April, 1984, Billy Gilley,18, killed his parents with a baseball bat. And when his little sister Becky wouldn't go upstairs while he finished, he beat her, too, which eventually killed her. Jody Gilley, 16 at the time, stood frozen in her bedroom, disassociating, imagining she was a character in a book and wondering if that character would jump out the window to get away from her brother.

When he was finished, Billy Gilley came upstairs, bloody, and said to his sister: "We're free."

Feb 28, 2009 Emily rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
On a spring night in 1984, Billy Gilley bludgeoned his father, mother, and youngest sister to death in their Oregon home while his sister Jody cowered upstairs. While They Slept is Kathryn Harrison’s rendering of the murder, its precipitating events, and its aftermath based on research that includes multiple interviews with both Jody and Billy Gilley. At the outset, Harrison informs the reader of her own survivor story (she was manipulated into sex acts with her father as a young woman) and thro ...more
Aug 31, 2008 Kellie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I thought this was a decent book for about the first 2/3, then it was all I could do to finish it.

The author's insistence of bringing herself and her own history into this book drove me nuts. Why was she continually trying to compare herself to the Gilleys? Often these were forced comparisons, at best.

Reading this book is like listening to somebody speak in a monotone voice. This style could have been very effective for a book of this type, if it was done better.

This is an interesting subject a
Antoinette Maria
Disappointing. 1. The author seems to have immersed herself in this family's story only as a path to her own redemption. 2.)The author's analysis clearly shows the limits of literary analysis as a way of understanding one's own or someone else's life. That is, it can work only to a point and then only if you're willing to disregard or ignore large chunks of the story. 3.) The author identifies herself so clearly with Jody and sees Billy so clearly as an "other" that she rarely questions Jody's v ...more
Feb 16, 2009 Pam rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
So far the author annoys me. She uses a lot of psychological profiling so I felt compelled to look up her biography. No psychology/psychiatry background. Annoying.
This book explores the events leading up to, and the aftermath of, the Gilley family. Billy, 18 years old, beats his mother, father, and little sister to death with a baseball bat in the middle of the night. He then tells his other younger sister, Jody, "We're free".

Harrison does a nice job of drawing interesting, and at times insightful, parallels and observations throughout, but also seems to be continually wresting the spotlight from the Gilley family to herself. In the first chapters we lea
Allison Herman
Jul 25, 2009 Allison Herman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first thing to know before reading this book is that Kathryn Harrison has a bit of a sordid past. Her book The Kiss is about her romantic relationship with her biological father.
While They Slept is about the murder of the Gilley family by the only son, Billy. He kills his mother, father, and youngest sister, while saving his other sister so they can be "free". There is some question as to whether or not Billy wanted a relationship with his sister Jody and Harrison picks up on this quickly.
Bookmarks Magazine

Kathryn Harrison has clearly done her research. She gained the trust of both Billy and Jody, which resulted in multiple interviews and access to their personal papers. The narrative fairly buzzes with warmth and concern for the siblings. However, some critics, deeming it intrusive and pompous, took issue with Harrison's frequent habit of inserting her own painful past into the story. Others believed her suffering adds depth and authenticity to the narrative. Hailed as "a heartbreaking read" by t

Diane Dachota
I was a fan of Harrison's The Seal Wife and thought I would like her literate take on a true crime story. In 1984, Billy Gilley killed his father, mother and one of his two sisters with a baseball bat. Another sister was spared. This books includes interviews and viewpoints both from Billy in prison, and his surviving sister Jody. As is usual in these cases, poor education, child abuse and possible sexual abuse come to light as the case is investigated.

Harrison doesn't really make the characters
Maryann MJS1228
This is a frustrating book. It is frustrating because of what it is and what it is not. It is not, emphatically not, an entry in the true crime genre. It contains none of the staples of true crime despite the author's admission that she is addicted to the genre. It is part exploration of how someone goes on after an event (or rupture, to use the author's term) severs the past from their future ,and part exploration their own role in that event. The event in question is the Billy Gilley's murder ...more
Oct 31, 2008 Nicole rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Nicole by: Elaine
Disturbing in a way that makes it hard, impossible for me anyway, to turn away. Unlike many other 'anatomy of a crime' novels the author is so present in the dissection that it's really the story of her research and reconstruction of the events. Not your typical Sunday morning reading, but once I started I couldn't stop.
Tara Quinn
The author's need to constantly insert herself into the story was incredibly annoying! The two stories and "tragedies" do not compare. Not to be unsympathetic to either story, but this book sells itself as the story of a horrific crime. But whilst reading, the reader is continuously subjected to the author trying to compare her life with that of the survivor of this crime. It just doesn't work!!! Is this a memoir or a true crime novel? It does not work as both. It is off putting and demeaning to ...more
Jul 05, 2012 Kelly rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked this book but I thought the author injected too much of herself. I thought it would be a little more straight true crime. It was hard to feel too connected with anyone in this book except for Jody whose defense was to largely shut off her emotions.
the author wrote a riveting story about child abuse and the affects it had on the
son and daughter after the son murdered both parents. In my mind, I believe that
in the young boy's mind, even his mother was a danger because she didn't protect
them and also sides with the father. As he saw it when he said to his sister: "We're free". These two imposing figures were HUGE in his mind and worried after the murder that, somehow, the father would rise up and go after
both of them. Very interesting and in
it's weird, because although I gave it five stars, i could easily see how someone would hate this book. kathryn harrison (the author of the kiss, a memoir of her "voluntary" incestuous relationship with the father she doesn't meet until she's twenty) explores the story of the gilley family. when he was eighteen, billy gilley murdered his parents and his little sister, leaving one surviving sister. harrison talked extensively to both billy and jody to write this, but it's more jody's story. harri ...more
Melissa McClintock
On the fence about this one. It's the 1st true crime I've read in months. I think it was in the library because it is our area, the next "true" town in Oregon this side of the Cascades.

I liked the story and I liked the research and the way the story is presented totally non sensationalized. Not up to Ann Rule by any means, but not that commercial junk food so many true crime authors stoop to as if the actual occurance isn't horrible enough.

I just don't like the author's voice. I don't like it w
Jul 14, 2008 Geeta rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

Well, I finished it. But I'm still not crazy about the writing itself--mannered, impenetrable at times, and just workman-like in general.

However, the narrative itself is compelling. After suffering years of physical and emotional abuse, Billy Gilley beats his parents and youngest sister to death with a baseball bat one night. Harrison examines the aftermath of this unspeakable act through the eyes of Billy and his surviving sister, Jody. Harrison is interested in the "before" and "after" version
Kayla Rae
I read "The Kiss", Harrison's definitive memoir detailing her sexual relationship with her estranged father, a few years ago. The story itself was stark and honest, and bore little indication that "getting over it" would ever be a genuine resolution. Instead, Harrison sketches a life in which rehabilitation and growth exist alongside the weight of trauma. "While They Slept", an recount of the 1984 murders of Bill, Linda and Becky Gilley by son Billy, establishes a connection between Harrison’s v ...more
Aug 27, 2008 Elyssa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: truecrime
This book had greater potential. The author, Kathryn Harrison, conducted an in-depth investigation into the murder by Billy Gilley of his parents and sister. The "back story" is gathered from interviewing Billy and the sister he spared from murder, Jody. Billy and Jody endured severe abuse at the hands of their parents and Billy's transformation into a murderer is fascinating.

As some Goodreaders might be aware, Harrison wrote a memoir called The Kiss, about how her father sexually abused her. Wh
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Kathryn Harrison is the author of the novels Envy, The Seal Wife, The Binding Chair, Poison, Exposure, and Thicker Than Water.

She has also written memoirs, The Kiss and The Mother Knot, a travel memoir, The Road To Santiago, a biography, Saint Therese Of Lisieux, and a collection of personal essays, Seeking Rapture.

Ms. Harrison is a frequent reviewer for The New York Times Book Review; her essay
More about Kathryn Harrison...

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“There must be many of us whose lives have been divided into a before and after, with an accident, a death, a crime, a crisis, some moment or year or relationship that came between and changed everything. I want to see how your life moved forward from that point of division.” 17 likes
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