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[Monday Reading] Contemporary Crime and Horror Novels by Female American Authors

"The Grip Of It" by Jac Jemc | "I'll Be Gone In The Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search For The Golden State Killer" by Michelle McNamara.


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community. 

My husband and I are huge fans of true crime documentaries. And so, when I saw Michelle McNamara’s book making the rounds on Litsy, I thought I better borrow it from our library for our current reading theme. The other book The Grip Of It, I received as part of the #HorrorPostalBookClub #ScreamsByMail. I thought of pairing these two crime / thriller / horror novels together as they are contemporary stories written by female American authors.

The Grip Of It

Written by: Jac Jemc
Published by: FSG Originals (2017)
ISBN: 0374536910 (ISBN13: 9780374536916)Literary Award: Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Horror (2017). Copy read was part of an international book club. Book quotes laid out using Typorama.

I did not know there was such a thing as a literary horror novel until I read two books through our #HorrorPostalBookClub. This one came right after Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting Of Hill House.

Hence, the haunted house spectrum has now been covered by our international book club from the classic Jackson to the more contemporary Jemc. The former was a seamless and gradual descent into frayed consciousness, such that the reader finds it difficult to discern what is real and what is part of the main character’s paranoia and descent into madness. Jac Jemc’s narrative, however, has a more disjointed and spasmodic quality, with the constant shifts in perspectives between the two main characters in the stories. There is also a clear modern vibe in The Grip Of It – with a cosmopolitan couple who have decided to live out in the suburbs, after being in the city for a fairly long time.

It was this intimacy that drew me somewhat to the narrative in the beginning, flawed as the young couple (Julie and James) seemed to be. What is clear, however, is their desire to work things out, regardless. The fact that they were able to find a cheap, large house with plenty of space, quite close to the beach, seems like the perfect excuse for a fresh start. Until strange things start to happen around the house.

I do not get easily creeped out by novels, but this one I had to put aside for a few minutes so I can breathe and reorient my bearings, before I resume plunging into the sharp edges of darkness, amplified by the grating sounds described to be emanating from the roots of the house itself. These strange, guttural sounds, almost like a breathing chant, was dismissed in the beginning as the house ‘settling’ but in truth, revealed its far more sinister quality, made more ominous with the fact that it was initially perceived as non-threatening.

Like Shirley Jackson’s Haunting, the boundaries between nightmarish states and reality blur as the story progresses. The decay of the house manifests itself in Julie’s unexplained bruises and the unraveling of James, such that they become suspects of misdemeanours, and even a potential crime (with their Peeping-Tom of a neighbour missing). Yet their constantly befuddled and toxic-ridden state rendered a lack of credibility in the statements they give to police officers, family and friends.

Somewhere towards the end of the story, I started becoming impatient with the couple. Evidently, the house is bad for them. Yet they continue going back to the house, regardless. It’s like when you’re watching a horror film, and you know exactly what is behind that door, and you wonder at the main characters’ seeming insipidness throughout it all. I was basically left screaming at Julie and James’ jejune decision-making, as I wondered what it would take exactly for them to just leave that place.

More than the plot, I admired Jemc’s sinuous voice, despite the fragmented, choppy trajectories that I felt were pointed and calculated. Never mind that I felt unsympathetic towards James and Julie in the end, there was still an artfulness in the way that their story was delivered. This one has serious creepazoid elements. Read at your own peril.

I’ll Be Gone In The Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search For The Golden State Killer

Written by: Michelle McNamara
Published by: Harper (2018)
ISBN: 0062319809 (ISBN13: 9780062319807). Borrowed through inter-library loan. Book quotes laid out using Typorama.

There are occasions when real life narratives are more frightening than make-believe stories. This nonfiction narrative is one of those. It reads and sounds like a Netflix documentary (pleasepleaseplease turn this into one, stat), given McNamara’s Hollywood ties. Yet the author’s sensitivity, eerily-empathetic connection with the Golden State Killer whom she was tracking down, and exquisite gift with language shone through in every page.

This is not to say, however, that McNamara only delved into the mind of this prolific criminal who raped over 50 women and killed over ten people, and remained in the wind until apprehended early this year (but I’m jumping ahead of myself). She also depicted the victims’ and survivors’ narratives with quiet grace; never exploitative, but delicately searching, always mindful of the gaps in her stories.

Then there is Michelle’s earned credibility in the eyes of the detectives who have spent most of their professional lives trying to crack this cold case. More than anything, this served as proof of McNamara’s tenacity, generosity of spirit, and powers of persuasion grounded in her singular search for truth, something which the police officers came to respect.

What I also found endlessly fascinating about this narrative is how it documented the progress of this sick mind – from his being a casual Peeping Tom, to house burglaries, to a deranged killer who took pleasure in terrorizing husband-and-wife inside their own homes: their supposed sanctuary.

The unlikely combination of arrogance (he would even call his victims a few years after, reminding them of the time “they played”) and palpable feelings of juvenile inadequacy (as evidenced in those cries for Mommy after raping his victims – talk about sick) was incendiary, leading to a spree of killings and rapes, as if he was practically begging to be arrested.

It is to be noted, however, that this narrative nonfiction also had a discontinuous quality to it, mainly because McNamara died before finishing the book. Hence, her researchers and friends had to piece several things together, stitching her vision into a somewhat-coherent whole.

Needless to say, the amount of time devoted exclusively by Michelle McNamara to hunting down the Golden State Killer paid off, as evidenced by his capture earlier this year, through avenues that McNamara herself recommended in her book and in her conversations with police officers. Too bad, she was not able to see the look on his face when these final lines that she wrote in the “Epilogue: Letter to An Old Man” actually proved prescient:

For those who would like to know more about this case, here is an ABC News Clip:

#LitWorld2018GB Update: United States Of America

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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

10 comments on “[Monday Reading] Contemporary Crime and Horror Novels by Female American Authors

  1. I’m glad to read your detailed reviews so that I can know about these books and recommend to students but I don’t have to read them myself! This is a type of reading that makes me feel quite squeamish! I remember absolutely loving horror and true crime as a teen, but I haven’t ever been able to stomach it as an adult. I will be following this reading theme with interest, though, and gathering titles to recommend!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! I read Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle earlier this year. I appreciate how well it is written, but that’s as creepy as I can manage. I have Killers Of The Flower Moon on my to read list, and even have the audiobook, but I’m terrified of starting it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve always been fascinated with true crime, and I’m currently on the wait list for “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” – really looking forward to it!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve not read many scary books. I had such a vivid imagination that Jaws just about made me sick. And anything about an old house is scary because our house is over 100 years old and I’ve had to call the police before to help me rummage through it when I heard voices. So yeah, just a little too realistic for me. LOL I also watched the video and couldn’t help but cry when it got to the part with Michelle’s husband talking into a video to her. Just pulled on my heart-strings! Have a wonderful reading week, Myra!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You are very brave to read these, the nightly diet on the TV news is quite enough fo rme. However in a way these kinds of books are important to awaken us. I couldn’t read these though, I’d never sleep!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow such an interesting read! I can hardly read anything too scary so I admire your efforts

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m on a waitlist for I’ll Be Gone In The Dark, but it’s the longest waitlist ever. I’ll probably end up buying the book before it comes off the waitlist because it sounds so good. Great reviews!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve been interested in reading I’ll Be Gone In the Dark. I was concerned because I can have trouble reading or hearing about rape, but it sounds like this one is well done.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I am so not a fan of scary books! Even kids “scary” books make me a bit nervous! I have a few that I’m leaving for daylight reading now!!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: [Saturday Reads] Round Up of My Literary Journey and My Best in Books Across Quarterly Reading Themes – Gathering Books

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