Leah's Reviews > Spoken in Darkness: Small-Town Murder and a Friendship Beyond Death

Spoken in Darkness by Ann E. Imbrie
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bookshelves: read-women-2019

Being an Ohioan, who currently lives in one of the cities in Spoken in Darkness, I was intrigued by the premise and what I thought was going to be a true crime novel. Sadly, the book ended up being more memoir than true crime, and another example of what happens when an author's narrative straddles genres rather than blends them seamlessly together.

Imbrie investigates the case of her childhood "best friend," Lee Snavely, to find out what happened to Lee between their time together (7th-9th grades in the 60s in Bowling Green, OH), Lee's disappearance in March 1974 at the age of 24, and the eventual discovery of Lee's body in March 1975.

Come to find out, these "friends" hadn't spoken in several years and hadn't had an active friendship in almost a decade. On top of their questionable connection, Imbrie constantly juxtaposes her life and experiences with Lee's -- when they couldn't have been more different. Quick example? Imbrie, a tenured professor at Vassar; Lee, a working prostitute. So, rather than center Lee and her short life, Imbrie hogs the spotlight with her coming of age and personal woes and (everyday, normal) Mommy and Daddy issues.

Imbrie remarks later in the book that Lee was seen as "another dead prostitute," but Imbrie's scant coverage of Lee and her life lends itself to an equally insidious form of erasure, in my opinion.
"I had started two months before with a puzzle I wanted to solve, a story I wanted to tell, vaguely uneasy that the pieces of my memory didn't fit into a coherent picture. That unease focused later on a grim question, to which I thought I could find an answer, the facts, at least, if not the truth. What had happened in Lee's life, that she could have been dead for over a year, and they found her body by accident? A conviction of my difference from her had prompted the question: I would have been found on purpose. Somebody would have been looking for me."
So yeah, definitely more memoir than true crime. And an overwritten memoir at that.

The muddle is further exacerbated by Imbrie's fast-and-loose approach with the true crime aspects. She consistently mixes the facts from the case with what she calls "seeing" events. She "sees" what's happening with Lee even though she has no data, evidence or first-person accounts to support her stories. She even admits that she's making things up.
"I've come to much of my story, what I can't know or didn't observe myself, through photographs, which I have learned to read, imaginatively, like a text. A photograph is the next best thing to being there, and the next best thing to a photograph is a good description of one."
"I imagine Debbie's life before Lee met her from my sister's reports." Here, I thought, oh, Imbrie's sister knew Debbie and is going to share her recollections. But no. Imbrie uses her own sister's stories about what kids did in her junior high and high school days (you know, totally crazy and wild things likes "driving around the high school parking lot, seeing how fast they could go, then bailing out, opening the doors and jumping...into the gravel, just for kicks.") to replace actual facts from Debbie's life. Imbrie goes on to share, "I'd been in junior high...and I didn't know I knew anybody who had trouble like that." Yet she'd described friends and acquaintances smoking pot, having sex, etc. Inconsistencies in true crime are a pet peeve, but I guess as a memoir, it's okay because memory is fluid.
"...I have no evidence of what happened. It is mine to imagine, what no one can know."
A final example of Imbrie's "seeing," pages 241-255 in the last chapter of the book, when she "recounts" Lee's last days which, after Lee's disappearance, no one knows the facts except the killer.

The biggest question I'm left with is why didn't Imbrie interview Taylor? If she genuinely wanted to know what happened to Lee after she disappeared, wouldn't the man she drove off with and who eventually murdered her, be on the interview list?

Recommended only to die-hard true crime readers who are willing to sit through a dull narrative for, at the most, a few astute observations about small-town life and the US justice system. Or, perhaps, someone researching Gary Addison Taylor.
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Reading Progress

January 23, 2019 – Started Reading
January 23, 2019 – Finished Reading
January 25, 2019 – Shelved
September 2, 2019 – Shelved as: read-women-2019

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