Verdict: Yes, Maggie Nelson IS brilliant.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Date read: December 28th, 2017
Published by Vintage, 2017 (first published 2007)
In 1969, Jane Mixer, a first-year law student at the University of Michigan, posted a note on a student noticeboard to share a lift back to her hometown of Muskegon for spring break. She never made it: she was brutally murdered, her body found a few miles from campus the following day.
The Red Parts is Maggie Nelson’s singular account of her aunt Jane’s death, and the trial that took place some 35 years afterward. Officially unsolved for decades, the case was reopened in 2004 after a DNA match identified a new suspect, who would soon be arrested and tried. In 2005, Nelson found herself attending the trial, and reflecting with fresh urgency on our relentless obsession with violence, particularly against women.
Resurrecting her interior world during the trial – in all its horror, grief, obsession, recklessness, scepticism and downright confusion – Maggie Nelson has produced a work of profound integrity and, in its subtle indeterminacy, deadly moral precision.
Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts was one of the first non fictions books I read when I decided to vary my reading a few years back. I adored it – Maggie Nelson’s particular brand of intellectual maybe even academic memoir writing resonates with me. As such it is a bit of shame that it took me so long to read another of her books. But now that I read this, I will for sure read all her other books as well.
A few months before Maggie Nelson published her book of poetry, Jane, which focusses on her late aunt who fell victim to a violent murder, she is contacted by a police officer – the case seems to have finally been solved (more than 30 years later) and an arrest will be made soon. This book chronicles this time where fiction and fact collide. Maggie Nelson and her mother sat through the whole trial.
She does not only chronicle the trial but also muses on our society’s fixation on murder, especially on murdered young women. She talks about this obsession while also never losing sight of the fact that she perhaps is doing exactly the same thing the media is doing: telling Jane’s story without maybe having the right. This reflexive self-consciousness was my favourite part of this book. She makes her own experience vey much the center of her work while also understanding this and acknowledging it. This is very brilliant. This focus on herself and on the role of her art is so well done and I adore that she does not apologize for putting herself in the center of her book.