I don't know if I've ever felt so manipulated by an author as I did with this book. McGinniss is a very skilled writer, so skillful that he knows what...moreI don't know if I've ever felt so manipulated by an author as I did with this book. McGinniss is a very skilled writer, so skillful that he knows what to bring in and what to leave out to make the reader think or feel a certain way.
In writing from the Voice of Jeffrey MacDonald, he leaves in all of the speech hesitance to create the impression that MacDonald is always searching for the right thing to say. I have only taken one journalism course, but in that course I learned to take those out because they undermine the subject's credibility, and it does to a great degree. It makes the subject seem stupid or deceptive, when in truth it's just writing how people actually talk. The fact that he left them in, likely knowing the effect, and knowing that readers won't assume that a doctor who was an undergrad at Princeton, studied medicine at Northwestern, and did his residency at Columbia is stupid, therefore must be deceptive, is a very clever technique. McGinniss seems to be saying, do not trust this man.
(This is where the spoiler is, so stop reading if spoilers bother you)
I also have a theory that MacDonald's lawyer, Segal, threw the case. Segal is a wonderful lawyer, he thinks about all aspects of the case and how to present it to the jury to make them sympathetic. He is arguing to a jury of mostly white, Southern-born, middle class 35-40 year olds. He gets a lawyer named Wade Smith, who is well-respected and congenial, to argue most of the case, as Smith is a charismatic Southern-born, middle class man, the same as the jury. Segal knows the case, and has worked on it for about 10 years to that point, so he coaches Smith and MacDonald on everything, what to say, how to say it, what questions to prepare for, what their body language should be, when to cry, when to be stoic, and so on.
Then, in the final argument, he decides that he will take two hours to unravel the prosecution's case, and give the last hour and fifteen minutes to Smith to talk about what a fine man MacDonald is, how well-respected and beloved he is, and how no man of such character could possibly murder his entire family. It doesn't happen that way. Segal spends three hours railing against the investigators and the investigation, police (which is very suspect, because he chose an ex-cop to be on the jury, who became the foreman, and if you know anything about cops, the first thing you learn is don't talk shit about cops), giving Smith just 10 minutes to talk about MacDonald's character.
It seems like it could have been a mistake or an ego trip, but Segal is a very methodical and calculating man in the book. It leads me to believe that he deliberately made all of the mistakes that he warned MacDonald and Smith not to make, prejudiced the jury, and blew the case all to hell. It leads me to believe that Segal, after hearing the evidence, became convinced of his client's guilt, and being unable to say that, instead blew the case purposefully.
MacDonald is the only reasonable suspect, and is likely guilty of the slaughter of his family. That is the only plausible explanation. His story just doesn't make sense. Hippies infiltrating Fort Bragg to murder people while leaving no signs of struggle makes no sense. The Manson crime scenes were left in chaos, couches ripped apart, blood everywhere, furniture toppled and destroyed, while MacDonald's home just seemed to be minorly upset, one table overturned, stab wounds in precise, orderly places, as if done by someone with medical knowledge. The Manson killers stabbed everywhere, in the belly, the back, even when their victims were subdued and likely dead, they kept stabbing in a frenzy. The MacDonald murders were too neat, the wounds were done by someone who knew what was just enough to kill, not enough to make a mess, not something that drugged up hippies would be able to accomplish unless they were anal and medically trained. MacDonald relied on the prejudice against hippies and his own background to get away with murder, and that is very clear.
This is a book about egos. I don't think in any true crime book I've read had an author's headshot as part of the photo insert before, unless they were directly involved in the case (like Bugliosi in Helter Skelter, and I think Ann Rule had a picture in Stranger Beside Me working the phones of a suicide hotline with Ted Bundy). McGinniss includes his face on a whole page, while the victims of the crime, who I really wanted to see and study and feel the loss of, are relegated to small thumbnails, their faces indistinct, unrecognizable. In one of the photos, the murdered daughters, who were terribly young, are in costumes for Halloween. It seems to me that the book is about who has the last word, and McGinniss takes it. (less)
This is probably the most readable thing I've read by Brian Evenson, which is good and bad. Good because I may be able to recommend it to friends with...moreThis is probably the most readable thing I've read by Brian Evenson, which is good and bad. Good because I may be able to recommend it to friends without a warning (such as "I read 'Two Brothers' and almost puked"), bad because so far it doesn't have the intensity of Evenson's best short stories. Much better so far than The Open Curtain, though.
Side note: I did read a pretty graphic part while eating lunch, and I did have to put down my sandwich for a couple of minutes to avoid vomiting. It's my fault, though. I should have known better than to eat while reading Evenson.(less)