Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Book Review: The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts: Murder and Memory in an American City by Laura Tillman

Title: The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts: Murder and Memory in an American City
Author: Laura Tillman
Pages: 256 pages
Release Date: April 5th, 2016
Publisher: Scribner
Genre: Nonfiction; Crime
My Rating: 2/5

In Cold Blood meets Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s Random Family: A harrowing, profoundly personal investigation of the causes, effects, and communal toll of a deeply troubling crime—the brutal murder of three young children by their parents in the border city of Brownsville, Texas.

On March 11, 2003, in Brownsville, Texas—one of America’s poorest cities—John Allen Rubio and Angela Camacho murdered their three young children. The apartment building in which the brutal crimes took place was already rundown, and in their aftermath a consensus developed in the community that it should be destroyed. It was a place, neighbors felt, that was plagued by spiritual cancer.

In 2008, journalist Laura Tillman covered the story for The Brownsville Herald. The questions it raised haunted her, particularly one asked by the sole member of the city’s Heritage Council to oppose demolition: is there any such thing as an evil building? Her investigation took her far beyond that question, revealing the nature of the toll that the crime exacted on a city already wracked with poverty. It sprawled into a six-year inquiry into the larger significance of such acts, ones so difficult to imagine or explain that their perpetrators are often dismissed as monsters alien to humanity.

With meticulous attention and stunning compassion, Tillman surveyed those surrounding the crimes, speaking with the lawyers who tried the case, the family’s neighbors and relatives and teachers, even one of the murderers: John Allen Rubio himself, whom she corresponded with for years and ultimately met in person. The result is a brilliant exploration of some of our age’s most important social issues, from poverty to mental illness to the death penalty, and a beautiful, profound meditation on the truly human forces that drive them. It is disturbing, insightful, and mesmerizing in equal measure.

Impoverished couple living in an impoverished community have mental health issues and decapitate their three young children. The book didn't really dive deeper than that.

I was interested in what prompted the couple to murder their children, interested in the role poverty played in their actions. Poverty exacerbates drug use, malnutrition, mental health issues. Poverty passed down through generations can do further damage. Ex: when your mom is a heavy drinker all through her pregnancy with you, you're already fucked. 

The system also failed the murder couple in a way. They were having issues with their food stamps I think? I wish the aspect of 'how' one could decapitate two toddlers and an infant was expanded upon. Instead of seeing the couple as two monsters, the factors that drove them to do it make the triple murder (a little) understandable. Anyways, this book didn't seem to really have an angle besides reiterating "bad parents do bad thing in bad place."

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