I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

Description

“I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer is a true crime book by the American writer Michelle McNamara about the investigation to uncover the Golden State Killer. The book was released on February 27, 2018, nearly two years after McNamara’s death and two months before an arrest would be made in the case.

The book’s title is a reference to a direct quote spoken by the Golden State Killer to one of his victims: ‘You’ll be silent forever, and I’ll be gone in the dark.’” – from Wikipedia.

Recommendation

Read if:

Probably just don’t. I only read it because someone in my book club picked it.

Skip if:

Skip if you don’t want to read hundreds of pages penned by a rich white woman strung out on Adderall, Xanax, and fentanyl who hid in her bedroom and became increasingly paranoid about threats to the safety of people like her as she deepened her obsession with a serial killer to the point of writing unsent letters to him. Skip if you don’t want to read a book that argues in favor of a surveillance state and recounts many instances of police being racist and incompetent without ever seeming to realize they are either.  

This was easily my least favorite book of the 53 I read in 2021. It is possibly my least favorite book that I have read by choice in my adult life. I did not enjoy it and would not recommend it to anyone.

Cover for I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

Discussion

I can empathize with the author about the circumstances in which the book was published: she died, and then her husband and one or two of her closest true-crime-obsessed friends did their best to put together her notes into the order they thought she would have intended and got it published. If I had been putting together a book, died in the middle of that process, and my husband tried to finish and publish it, my ghost would probably be mortified at the product. Writing is a very personal thing and it would be difficult to complete someone’s book without them there, especially if you aren’t intimately familiar with both the person and the piece they were writing. The author’s husband seemed somewhat alienated from the true-crime-obsession part of her, while her true-crime-obsessed friends maybe didn’t know her as well as they knew the material. I wonder how different their final product is from what McNamara herself would have put out into the world had she lived. That said, I still don’t think I would have liked the book if the author had finished it herself.

It’s easiest to summarize my opinion of the entire true crime genre with a tweet from @Theophite: “true crime is bad in every conceivable way. it exploits real people’s grief, teaches people paranoid lies about risk in a way which has become completely culturally pervasive, and props up the carceral state.” McNamara’s writing exemplifies each one of these points. Her book privileges the killer’s perspective and experiences above that of the victims. She spends an excessive amount of time wondering what he must have been thinking and feeling at each murder and very little time empathizing with the victims. When she does turn her attention to the experience of the victims and their families, it is entirely for shock value. I was disgusted at how many times McNamara revisited one of the victims’ daughter’s harsh last words to her mother before the mother was killed. The daughter is still alive and probably read the book.

For someone who apparently spent the vast majority of her time thinking about serial killers, McNamara’s view of the world seemed to be deeply naÏve. A passage that stuck with me on this point was in a chapter where she was describing seedy activity in a neighborhood in a “things aren’t what they seem and there’s danger everywhere” tone. She listed off some things that I don’t remember and then topped off her list with the fact that an aged hippie ice cream truck operator had been arrested for selling psychedelics to adults while also selling ice cream to children. Really, Michelle McNamara? That’s what danger looks like to you?

She also offers zero commentary on the racist police system even when recounting direct examples of it. One passage about a POC suspect who was falsely accused of being the serial killer features him directly saying while in the back of the cop car something along the lines of ‘it doesn’t matter if I did it or not, you can pin anything on me because of the color of my skin.’ She quotes him and then moves on, never once in the book commenting on how racist, incompetent police botch investigations. Further, the later parts of the book, which if I call correctly were written by her husband and co-obsessives but still based on her thoughts and opinions, express opinions about genetic databases (e.g. ancestry.com) that advocate for the surveillance state. McNamara and her circle seem to want a state-controlled central database of genetic profiles of every person just in case that person ever becomes a serial killer.

As a closing note, it was hilarious to me that in the introduction that Gillian Flynn wrote for the book, it seems questionable whether she actually read it. Everything she quotes is from the first few pages, and beyond that it’s very vague. 

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