I took this book on my recent trip to NYC and it definitely added an extra layer—reading about Piper and her friends and how they grew up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan while actually being there. Hers is an exclusive and privileged view, one filled with restrictions (both self-imposed and adult-imposed), rule-breaking, and tennis.
The true crime–memoir is not entirely a new genre, you could say that The Stranger Beside Me, Ann Rule's incredible 1980 book on her experience as Ted Bundy's friend definitely fits the bill.
But it is one that is currently breaking through the ranks. I have found several true crime books in the last few years that are really compelling because of their authors' unique perspective; it is very different from reading a book—however well-researched—that is done by someone who wasn't personally involved.
Similar to a few of my favorites, Maggie Nelson's The Red Parts and Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich's The Fact of a Body, this book chronicles a story that is very personal and immediate for the author.
Gary Wilensky was Piper's personal tennis coach when she was fourteen. She rode in his car alone, went to lunch with him, her parents trusted him. But that all changed when he committed suicide after a failed attempt at kidnapping another of his students.
Who was this man that she confided in, felt comfortable around, thought of as one of her friends? Why has the case always followed her, almost haunted her?
Piper delves deeply into the story of her own adolescence, finding universal truths about coming of age, no matter where you grew up. She looks down the avenues of obsession that are open to us all, comparing her own walk of that line with the very wrong direction that Gary took. The book contemplates the facts of Gary's case and how that meshes with what she knew of him.
Though I loved Piper's story and I wouldn't have cut any of it, I did wish there was a bit more focus on the case itself and the factual details about Gary, what happened, and how it came about.
This case is kind of weird because it is more of a what-if than anything else. No one really knows what he had planned or what would have happened. There is only the strange evidence, and the torment, he left behind.
This is definitely more of a memoir, a coming-of-age tale with true crime elements than a story about a crime. But Piper is a very talented writer and she has a way of drawing you into the story—I promise this one won't disappoint.
We all have been there: through the debilitating anguish, loneliness, depression, and obsession of young adulthood. Skirting the line of becoming an adult, but not quite there yet. Piper's effortless prose puts the reader in between the lines.
My thanks to the publisher for my copy of this book to read and review.
Stunning and compelling. This book digs to the heart of human experience, the worst of human experience, and comes out singing with strength.
You will be drawn in by the story of a missing boy, his tragic and unnecessary fate, and the entangled story of the man behind it, but you will stay for Alexandria.
This book is what I would call a true crime memoir. It is about a murder—the details, the people involved, even some parts of transcripts from the trial—but it is also about a woman investigating that murder and how that affected her own life, brought up things in her life she hadn’t even realized she needed to deal with.
It is a beautiful pairing of the past and the present, how those two things can seem disparate, completely unrelated, how people separated by years, geography, and crimes, can come to seem not so different after all.
Anyone who is interested in true crime will find the story of six-year-old Jeremy Guillory compelling. He goes down the street to play with his friends and is never seen alive again. A search ensues, a murderer is found, lives are changed, trials are held.
But it is the why that we are always searching for.
It is the why coursing through Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich that makes her grip this case, sensing echoes of herself in it, wanting to know why Ricky Langley did it that day, why he was the way he was, why Jeremy Guillory’s mother stood up and fought to get him off death row years later.
This examination of self and others in the face of something so inhumane, so needlessly barbaric, comes about as close to revealing the face of true humanity, of true self-realization, as I have ever felt a book to come.
This is a book about personal history, about what we choose to do with our lives and the hands we are dealt in life. No matter the circumstances of where you come from, you always have a choice for things to go one way or the other, or at least that’s what I choose to believe.
That’s what this book reinforces in me too. Bad things will happen, yes, but there is a choice that people can make beyond those bad things, in spite of them, even if everything was heading straight for those bad decisions, aligning with the stars—there is still a chance.
A chance for someone to see what happened and make a different choice. Despite the why, despite the pain, they will make a different choice.
I finished this book in the morning on a delayed train into Manhattan surrounded by people trying to get to their jobs, to meetings, to a thousand different places. Everyone thinking about what they had to do, about how late they were, how upset or mad they were about the trains, minds going a thousand miles a minute.
I was just visiting and didn’t have anywhere pressing to be, but it hit me for a minute. To be that surrounded by humanity, you have to give yourself up to it. Trust it a little, even as you are ignoring it behind your Beats or your cell phone screen. You never really know what is going on in the minds or lives of the strangers around you.
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Assistant editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.