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I didn’t pick up I’ll Be Gone In The Dark because I read true crime books. Out of all the genres of books in the world, true crime is one of my least favorite. I’m not a practical thinker. I’m not one for procedures. It’s hard for me to stick to the actual and not lose interest when strategies and laws and formalities start getting explained. When things get analytical, I nope out.
That’s not to say I do not love the genre in other forms though. I’m a child of the Unsolved Mysteries, American’s Most Wanted Generation. I love true crime TV shows and will spend hours watching documentaries. I absolutely love true crime podcasts. Most of my podcast feed is true crime in nature right now. And I’ve spent a good chunk of time scrolling through online websites and forums devoted to crimes and cases, suspects and victims. But with the exception of The Devil In The White City, I haven’t touched a true crime book in years.
That was until I heard that a comedian/actor who I’ve been fond of for a long while had lost his wife unexpectedly. We’ve had some close calls recently, so the fear of losing my husband is forefront in my mind.(I’m a nervous wreck and worry all the time, so what’s one more horrible thing to worry about right?)
As I was following that story, I found another story, tucked inside it.
It was a story about a woman who ordained herself a writer as a young teenager and was inspired to slip into the world of true crime by the nearby murder. It was about a night stalker whose 12-year campaign robbed the residents of a section of Califonia of their sleep, sanity, and in some cases, their lives. It was a story about dedication to clues and advances in science and about never giving up. It was a story about a serial killer who was obsessed. It was a story about a woman who in chronicling that obsession, became obsessed herself.
That woman was Michelle McNamara.
And her obsession was the Golden State Killer/ East Area Rapist/ Original Night Stalker.
One of the first things I said to my husband after I started reading it was “Holy shit, Michelle McNamara was a hell of a writer.” The story of the Golden State Killer (a name McNamara coined herself) is interesting on its own but has enough dates and location changes that it could read like an entry in the most boring of textbooks.
McNamara makes sure that doesn’t happen. Her ability to take police report data and turn it into a narrative that as intriguing as any classic whodunit is almost magical. She weaves the horrible crimes committed by the EAR (one of the many names for the Golden State Killer) with not only stories of the victims and neighbors, but about the officers, detectives, forensic scientists, and online sleuths that spent years if not decades on the case. She focuses not only on their methods but how the case affects them as people. How the case seeps into the pores of their careers and forever leaves a mark on who they are as people.
She doesn’t leave herself out either. She cast the lens as sharply on herself as she does the killer or any other side character in the book. She is not afraid to show her faults or the dark side of what an obsession like this does to someone. Her devotion to bringing justice is on full array, and so is it’s price tag. Tales of events left and anniversaries forgotten show the impact McNamara’s devotion to justice had on her life.
Just like the reality of her devotion, the details of the crimes are not sugarcoated either. Taken straight from victim statements and police reports, every detail of the heinous crimes of the Golden State Killer is put on display. His actions, and inactions, are laid out not as a case study but rather like a really great episode of Law and Order. The retelling of the horrible events almost feels like fictional stories sometimes while you are reading. Then it hits you. These horrible things happened. This isn’t a scripted show. This was an actual period in time when one man terrorized an entire section of California. And then, years later, mentally perplexed so many people all over the world.
That’s one of the things that kept making me have to put the book down while I was reading. I would get so invested in the story that when the people of the book would reach out and connect with me, it was like a slap in the face. McNamara stopped being just an author. I felt like I knew her after reading the book for a very short while. I felt like I was there, researching and writing along with her, as the book unfurled. So when every so often, the Editor’s Notes would start a new chapter, my heart would pause. Those would be the moments when I would have to remember that the woman I’m reading isn’t sitting on the other end of the keyboard, or at her home with her daughter and husband. She’s not on a book tour or getting ready to do interviews for the upcoming HBO documentary. She also not relishing in the fact that the man that did all the horrible crimes that her book was written about was finally apprehended.
Michelle McNamara passed away in 2016 before the book was even finished. In 2017, in the closing of the book, the editors who pieced together her work to create the finished project vowed not to stop until they got his name. In April of 2018, Joseph James DeAngelo was arrested for being the suspected Golden State Killer, thanks to new DNA information.
This story is still growing and evolving. And I feel that we owe it to the victims and their families as well as Michelle and hers to make sure we see it to the end.
I don’t know when or exactly why I stopped reading the Huffington Post. But at some point, I did. I can almost guarantee it wasn’t out of malice. HuffPost, for the most part, has long been right up my alley when it comes to journalism. I read them a ton when I was younger. There was even a time when Recent College Dropout Me fantasized about writing for them. But then she got busy raising babies and started reading TMZ between diaper changes. Her brain slipped a bit and those hopes slipped away. Younger me made some poor decisions (TMZ obviously, not the babies). Somehow, other than the passing hashtag on Instagram, I had almost completely forgotten about the publication. That was until one of their headlines ended up on my Facebook timeline.
And oh boy, was it a good one.
I mean, how could you see that and NOT click on it?
The article talks about how Nadia Bolz-Waber, the lead pastor at Denver’s House for All Sinners and Saints and all-around kickass progressive Christian author and theologian, is working with artist Nancy Anderson to reclaim the idea of the purity ring. Their project asks people to send in the purity rings they were given as young people so they can all be melted down together to form a golden vagina sculpture. People who sent in their rings by the dead received a silicone ring of impurity and a certificate to boot.
In case you missed it, purity rings were part of some Evangelical circles back in the 1990s to the early 2000s. I even covered this topic in the early days of this blog with The Problem With Purity Rings. Basically, they were a yet again another gross way to try to force further control over young women’s bodies and sexualities. Bolz-Waber and Anderson wanted to use art to try to not only change but also recover from that. And that is pretty fucking awesome.
The article left me not only with an overwhelming sense of “Fuck yeah Girl Power!” for the day, but it also left me with some questions about this Nadia Bolz-Waber lady.
Lutheran pastors can have tattoos? There’s a queer-inclusive church in Denver called House For All Sinners and Saints? There are church people who are down with women having the right to have control over their own bodies and make their own decisions? And who are cool with art that has vaginas in it?
Obviously, I must learn more. Regardless of the differences in our beliefs, Nadia Bolz-Waber sounds like a freaking interesting person with a whole lot of interesting stuff going on.
So I did what anyone would do in our era, I googled her.
Then I bought two of her books.
The first one I read is the one I’m going to finally get around telling you about after this exceptionally lengthy introduction.
Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint was released in 2013 and is a wonderful blend of autobiography and living mission statement. The book chronicles not only Nadia Bolz-Weber’s struggles with her church and faith but also talks about how she got there.
The book opens with the definition of what a pastrix actually is. And for someone who didn’t actually grow up in the church but did grow up in the thick of the Bible Belt, it was as hilarious as it was helpful. (Have I ever told you about my great grandma’s sister who was am untrained female Southern Baptist preacher? I saw her anoint someone with vegtable oil once. That’s not really related to being a Pastrix but I felt the need to share.)
Following the opening definition, we are introduced to The Rowing Team and told about Bolz-Weber’s early days of sobriety and stand up comedy. The chapter sets the tone for the entire book because it shows exactly how open and transparent Bolz-Weber is with the audience. I was taken aback at just how real her writings were. For whatever reason, it felt alien to me to see a person in the business of holiness not having a completely polished and perfect image. I grew up in the land of Jim Bakkers and Tammy Fayes, Ted Haggards and Jimmy Swaggerts. We have megachurches here. We also have tiny churches with pastors who act like they have a megachurch. I am not used to people in religious authority being so open about their own dirt and more importantly, their own humanity. I’m used to overdressed and made-up plastic doll “people” not actual human beings full of faults, flaws, and four letter words. Bolz-Weber is an actual human being. Four letter words included.
The rest of the book continues with the same candid, honest communication as the first chapter. Bolz-Weber just does not sugar coat a damn thing. And it’s so fucking refreshing. Even coming from a Pagan standpoint, there are times where spiritual books get a little too saccharine for me. That does not happen here. Bolz-Weber is candid and honest with her struggles and never tries to paint them in a positive light. She does often find the cord that ties them to certain spiritual meanings. And I feel that is important. She finds God in the cracks, not just in the sunshine. That’s how I’ve often found connection with my path too. It’s never been the Goddess coming down and making flowers bloom on the path in front of me while moonlight perfectly reflects off some charging crystals lying on the ground. It’s been finding a connection to The Craft in the middle of the mud and gunk of life.
Speaking of, one of the chapters of the book even features a brief visit into the time Bolz-Weber spent with God’s Aunt, the Goddess. It’s about the few years she spent hanging around the Wiccan religion while she took some time off from Jesus. There is no talk of the evils of witchcraft, no talk of damnation, no talk of Hell. I’m not sure if that’s just the Lutheran way or not, but holy balls, it’s awesome to see. It’s just her pleasantly remembering how much love was present and how awesome the female companionship was of the group was. There was nothing but acceptance and love towards group she was attached to and the people she knew. While I’m not a Wiccan, it did make my Pagan heart happy to see so much love for us Pagan folks.
Some of the stories in the book are so honest, you kind of feel like you’re reading a diary. What’s great about a lot of them is that Bolz-Weber isn’t always the one that ends up being the hero at the end. You can see her as just a real person, someone who, even though she is the pastor of a church and leader in the community, is looking for the answers too.
Nadia Bolz-Weber does not shy to share where she is cracked, or when she has dirt under her nails (there’s a talk in there about Jesus that will make you understand the reference in that sentence). She is open with readers about her struggles and questions and even the doubts she once had about the whole thing. She is equally as open about her belief and devotion. She doesn’t just pay lip service to being a person of the cloth. She lives her faith. The good parts, the easy parts, the rewarding parts, but that’s not all. She also proud lives the hard parts, the unsure parts, the sad parts, the bitter parts, the tiring and painful parts. And she’s not afraid to share it all.
I really enjoyed this book and look forward to not only seeing the melted down purity ring vagina sculpture but reading the author’s other books in the future. Just because we don’t follow the same path, doesn’t mean we don’t take some of the same steps. I really feel that Nadia Bolz-Weber is an amazing woman who has a lot of world-changing ability. Also, we curse about the same amount, so that makes her writings really relatable and enjoyable to read.
I can’t recommend this book enough. If the mood strikes you, definitely pick up a copy. And since, like always, I am late to the party, totally check out the other books she’s written. I plan to.
And just as a funny add-on, there are a lot of mentions of places in the Denver, CO area in the book. Mr. ConjureandCoffee is a born and bred Denver native, having moved away from Colorado when he was around 10. So pretty much everytime a location came up, my South Carolina self would ask him “Hey babe, do you know where so-and-so is?” He quickly tired of my spur of the moment geography quizzes. I’m not sure why he puts up with me but I’m sure glad he does. 🙂
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