Friday, May 21, 2010

True Story : Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa - Michael Finkel

Summary: In True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa, disgraced New York Times writer Michael Finkel recounts the story of the murderer who assumed his identity and examines the reasons for his own fall from journalistic grace, in a memoir that is gripping, perceptive, and bizarre. In 2002, Finkel, a rising star at the Times, was fired for fabricating a character in a story about child laborers in Africa. Just as the story of his downfall was about to become public, he learned that a man named Christian Longo, arrested in Mexico for the murder of his wife and three small children in Oregon, had been living under an assumed identity: Michael Finkel of The New York Times. Sensing a story--and an opportunity for redemption--Finkel contacted Longo, initiating a relationship that would grow increasingly complex over the course of Longo's trial and conviction. (Summary taken from reviewer Erica Barnett)

My Review: This is a prime example of turning lemons into lemonade. Imagine being caught in a lie that destroys your career at the exact same moment that your identity is stolen by a murder...not a good day. Unless you can get the only interviews with said murderer and write a book about it.

The bizarre fact that both stories parallel each other makes for a well organized story and an interesting study of the similarity and differences between the two "main characters." (It is a non-fiction, are there still main characters?) Essentially it presents a spectrum of narcissism and lets you wonder where you fall. Not surprisingly the author tries hard to present himself as a penitent man hoping to return to good graces, with the understanding that having been branded, professionally, as a liar we have no reason to believe him. This is a book you want to discuss with a psychologist (we had one in our book club at the time) for real insight into various pathologies, including your own. (Yikes.)

The subject matter, the gruesome murder of a woman and her children, is presented in a factual reporter-like way. It was neither sensationalized nor sanitized. I was nervous about reading it, and it is horrifying to think that anyone could do that to their family, but it didn't give me nightmares or cause me to distrust mankind.

**Sidenote: If you like this book you'd probably like "Devil in a White City" by Erik Larson and maybe "In Cold Blood" by Truman Capote.

My Rating: 4 stars

In one sentence: If you tell a big lie, write a parallel story about a murderer and you'll come out smelling like roses.

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