Why is it that every book I read lately is, at best, a 3 star? It’s like I’m trapped in a Cosmic Latte sitting room and my only form of entertainmentWhy is it that every book I read lately is, at best, a 3 star? It’s like I’m trapped in a Cosmic Latte sitting room and my only form of entertainment is deciphering vanity plates. Seriously. I need to be roused! Vivified! Medicated! Perked! I need… pizzazz (That's right, I said it.)
Chris Bohjalian is to Vermont what Jodi Picoult is to New Hampshire. What Robert James Waller is to Iowa and so forth. I mean, look at the man…
I’ve read a few of his books… Midwives and The Double Bind --- they weren’t bad… I actually enjoyed the Gatsby thingamajig he does within The Double Bind… but I’m not all ‘Oh no, let’s go crazy!’ over him. But, I was listening to VPR and they were talking about his newest book and how it was a mysteryish, ghostish kinda story so I said, what the hell… I even liked the first line description… “In a dusty corner of a basement in a rambling Victorian house in northern New Hampshire, a door has long been sealed shut with 39 six-inch-long carriage bolts.”
First of all, it’s set in NH. I kind of felt ripped off, you know? I mean… he’s OURS. Let Jodi write about NH. No fair. Then I learn that the point of convergence that spurns the story actually happens on Lake Champlain (an airbus tries to pull a Sullenberger-on-the-Hudson type move but tragedy ensues…) so I’m thinking… okay… at least we got that.
So, as I said.. the main character is this pilot who crashes his plane into Lake Champlain, killing 39 people. He has survivor’s guilt, he’s obsessed with that Sully Sullenberger dude, he’s plain miserable… so, the family decides to move from Pennsylvania to New Hampshire (????) and worse… 'Bethel', New Hampshire. That’s like not even in existence! Keep it real, Christopher!!! There are enough scary remote NH towns; you don’t need to fictionalize one! Okay, whatever… So, there are these ‘herbalists’ (female, of course) that live in ‘Bethel’ and they all have… get this… plant names. Names like Reseda, Sage, Tansy, Anise, Verbana (Christ… enough already). Well, these ‘herbalists’ are taking a special interest in the pilot’s twin daughters (twins… never a good sign, right?) and don’t think that those 39 carriage bolts aren’t connected to the 39 passengers who died… okay? Just don’t go there. From there… much, much, more crap ensues.
Yes, I’m rambling. I’m rambling because I’m disappointed. I wanted a good ‘scare the shit out of me’ book---they’re like my Twilight Porn when I’m not reading Twilight Porn, okay? And what I got was a bunch of stupid plant women who want to Ponce De Leon up their lives. Why? You live in rural, northern, NH? What’s the point? It’s fucking New Hampshire. ...more
The Village of Essex Junction, Vermont. This is where I live. How fucking quaint can you get, right? This is straight from our website: “Essex JunctioThe Village of Essex Junction, Vermont. This is where I live. How fucking quaint can you get, right? This is straight from our website: “Essex Junction today is a nearly textbook model of a well planned, human scale, sustainable community. Within the Village borders are three well kept public parks with a full range of recreational facilities, and programs managed by the Essex Junction Recreation and Parks department.” The total area is about 4.6 square miles. We had 9,271 residents at the 2010 census and the big news on our home page is a reminder to ‘Please Refrain from Blowing or Mowing Leaves into the Public Roadway.’
It is the picture perfect New England town. Our schools are exemplary There's no waiting for Superman here, he's snugged out in a Victorian off of Main Street. Our community service is outstanding. We freakin’ rock. Seriously. Stepford wives would leave Stepford to move here. In fact, I’m sure some have. They bring their ceramic coffee mugs to drop off and run after mini vans to have parents sign petitions to keep the arts curriculum at 2 ½ days a week. Hellz yeah. I’m over the damn rainbow and loving it. (although my 14 yr old punk rock cynic self is blustering inside… suburban hell)
So, imagine my complete rubbernecking surprise to find out that back in 1981 two girls were brutally assaulted, raped, tortured, left for dead in the park that we watch our 4th of July fireworks every year? They were leaving the school that my daughter attends, they were my daughter’s age. Holy Hell. I had to learn more. Why? Because I’m sick. I know this… I just can’t imagine it happening here. I also can’t imagine a bullying problem but then again, there’s Essex Junction popping up with bully related suicides (at least 2 in the 7 years that I’ve been here.) Peter Meyer’s ‘Death of Innocence’ (ok, let’s stop right there… Death of Innocence? Really? My god, did this make it to a Lifetime movie?) chronicles the rape/murder and trial in expressive detail. “Despite their wispy frames, the two twelve year olds were accustomed to the often granite-rough climate of their native Vermont, walking more than a mile and a half (note: no school buses in the Village) to and from school every day, even in blizzard-driven drifts of snow.”
Yes… he likes to be descriptive… but I guess this is big amongst true crime writers. Too many times in his long winded portraitures of Essex Junction I had to stop, roll my eyes, and just laugh. Another Note: this was also written in 1985 and he is also the writer of ‘The Yale Murder’ so I really should have known better. Still, this is literally close to home and I am a nosey mofo.
The story is compelling. It WOULD make a great TV movie. It has that element of a sleepy town where no one locks their doors and the big events are the annual Memorial Day Parade (the governor shows up!) and the Block Party in July. To have this type of crime…this atrocity.. happen within our 4.6 square miles is pretty damn inconceivable. Yet….
Missy and Meghan were best friends. Sixth graders who played at the same parks my kids play at, hung out at the same library that my kids hang out, one of them lived on the street next to me…. it was a Friday afternoon and they wanted to take a shortcut near the railroad tracks because it had started to rain (163 days a year of precipitation, approximately.)
Louie and Jamie were teenagers, friends who liked to hang out ,steal from Woolworths, break into cars and…..stuff. Louie was from Burlington, but Jamie was rooted in Essex Jct. Jamie worked at the Lincoln Inn washing dishes; Louie was on probation for some sort of juvenile delinquent act. That day they decided that they were going to ‘get some girls.’ As Meyer’s put it “Both teenagers were quite familiar with the woods next to Maple Street Park, where they had hunted squirrels and scouted possible sites for their rape plans. That week, the two went to the park almost every day…. On Wednesday, by themselves, they found a couple of musty old mattresses in the underbrush.” What a setup, right? Or is it just me that’s really sick? Don’t answer that.
“By now Jamie and Louie were familiar with the Lawton School schedule and knew when the children—Jamie’s brother John being one of them—went home for the day. Their plan this Friday was rudimentary as it had always been. “We were just looking around there to find some squirrels and look for girls,” Jamie later recounted. “If there were no girls, we was going to get squirrels.”
What happened, and what is described, um… vividly… is that Meghan and Missy were dragged into the underbrush, gagged, raped, shot with pellet guns, stabbed, choked and left for dead. Only Meghan made it out alive… most likely because she passed out and they weren’t able to 'enjoy' torturing her---or thought she was dead. Missy ended up with six or seven BB gun shots, and 29 separate wounds (cutting knife, stabbing knife, BB gun, and ‘blunt impact’ wounds). Meghan managed to stagger out to the train tracks where a railroad flagman found her naked with a knife wound to the chest. She looked at him and said ‘Please help me sir, I’ve been raped.’ and collapsed.
Christ. Now, this probably wouldn’t have affected me so much if I weren’t a parent. I know, that’s horrible to say. I wish I didn’t feel that way. It’s all about how something relates to you, you know? If you don’t have kids… this is a tragedy, if you do… this is a fucking nightmare. This happened 30 years ago. The girls are the same age that I am. My kids are about the same age that they were. This takes on a whole new dread. It’s the stuff of many many horror films are based on. But, now it’s everywhere I look. Even 30 years later… my kids traipse this town like it’s their own playland. How can I spread this fear to them.. this could happen…. this DOES happen. Not just then.. but everyday. How do I break that… yeah, okay… I’ll say it… innocence?
Yeah Yeah.. Me-me-me-me….
The book details the manhunt, the trial, the effect on the town and the state. The fact that the juvenile law of 1968 stated “The law in Vermont is such that a juvenile under sixteen is incapable of murder under the law…the juvenile who is treated in juvenile court and found delinquent is, literally, out of the system at age eighteen. At age eighteen the records are expunged, there is no record of the offense and the juvenile is walking around and nobody even knows he committed a crime.” Jamie was only 15 at the time of the rape/murder. He was going to go free in less than 3 years with nothing to note that he was part of this. Louie, on the other hand, would be tried as an adult…he was 16. There was an emergency session of legislature that was spearheaded by two Essex housewives and their 27,350 signatures to petition the call. There were 3 different proposals for change of the juvenile code---One would lower the age from sixteen to fourteen, another would reduce the age to ten, and the third would have no age limit at all. Another issue is that Vermont did not have a Juvenile detention center and juveniles were not allowed to be housed with adults so they were usually placed in the state mental hospital until they turned of age. Can you imagine a state like Vermont having to deal with this? We are farmers and reformed Canadians and some… some… displaced city dwellers… but mostly farmers and mountain folk. Egads. And this was the eighties….
Okay, Okay… those are my highlights… there was no doubt of the guilt… just of who actually killed Missy… technicalities and age debates and putting a poor 13 year old through a trial where the defense, a lawyer named Rusty Valsangiacomo, is asking her questions like: “ Now, what Im trying to ask you—to see if you can remember in your mind whether or not you had a discussion with Susan Via when you went through wnhat happened to you before you started giving Susan a statement that was going to be recorded and typed. Do you understand what I said to you?” “No,” said Meghan tersely.
And… “He asked Meghan if she was embarrassed by talking about having to take her clothes off. Meghan said she was. “I’m embarrassed too,” said Valsangiacomo. “Does that make you feel better?” Meghan only shook her head. “No, I didn’t think so.”
So, this May was the 30th anniversary of the event. Meghan’s daughter is now 12 and attends junior high in Burlington. The crime is pretty much forgotten except by the natives, which, frankly, have been dying out. At one point, most people in the town knew or were related to the victims or the accusers… now I see kids walking the streets that can’t be older than seven or eight. I pass many cars that are unlocked and I have to admit that I forget to lock my house on many occasions. The new juvenile detention center is near the river where I bring my kids to look for frogs and walk the nature trails... What have we learned?
(sorry for the photo links...It's just so unreal that I tried to make it seem more... I guess...)