Unspeakable Acts, edited by Sara Weinman

Unspeakable Acts, edited by Sara Weinman, contains articles from print and online publications on three broad topics that touch on true crime. The first third of the collection are pure true crime. The second third reveals the ways in which true crime and American culture influence each other. The last third takes a further step back to look at how the American justice system fails and punishes people or is built on bad assumptions. There were several articles that were so good, so important, that I wanted to find copies online that I could share across my social networks.

Some of the stand outs include:

“Dee Dee Wanted Her Daughter to Be Sick, Gypsy Wanted Her Mom to Be Murdered” is the most “true crime” essay in this collection, which appeared on Buzzfeed News in August 2016. Michelle Dean recounts the shocking story of Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose Blancharde. Many true crime fans might know about this case because it was recently turned into a movie (The Act). The Blancharde’s story is the tale of two crimes. First, Dee Dee Blancharde subjected her daughter to years of abuse in the form of Munchausen’s by Proxy. Second, Gypsy Rose and her online boyfriend arranged to have Dee Dee killed. Dean’s tone seemed, to me, to sympathize with Gypsy’s point of view. I had to wonder, whose crime was worse?

“The Reckoning,” by Pamela Colloff for Texas Monthly (March 2016), is an extraordinary piece of writing. While an infamous criminal act is central to the essay, Colloff’s attention stays squarely on Claire Wilson. Claire was one of many people wounded when Charles Whitman started shooting from a tower at the University of Texas-Austin. She survived, but lost her unborn son. Instead of telling Whitman’s story or how he was killed, Colloff relates the long aftermath for a young woman who suddenly found herself in a war zone. Nothing like a mass shooting had ever happened before. Consequently, there was little in place to help Claire cope with the physical and psychological trauma she had suffered. The power of this piece comes from Colloff’s determination to show her readers that trauma, by keeping our eyes firmly on a survivor rather than trying to find out why Whitman did what he did.

The four essays that make up the last section, which explores the failures of our law enforcement and justice system, are all fantastic. If I had to choose one that stands out even from these brilliant pieces, it would be Emma Copley Eisenberg’s “‘I Am a Girl Now,’ Sage Smith Wrote, Then She Went Missing.” This article appeared in Splinter News in July 2017. It encapsulates so many problems. Sage Smith was transgender, Black, and poor. When she went missing, police didn’t do much and it’s hard to argue that those three strikes against Sage weren’t the reason—especially when Eisenberg points out that the Charlottesville Police spring into action when a white, cisgender female college student disappears. Sage Smith’s family are, as far as I can tell from a quick news search, still waiting to find out what happened to her.

Unspeakable Acts is a fantastic collection of true crime articles and essays. I was moved. I was outraged. I was hooked. This thoughtful collection contains everything a true crime fan could want but with added layers of context to leave readers thinking about what we can do to reform law enforcement and the justice system and gun laws and…well, it left me thinking about all of the things that need to be changed. This book didn’t depress me. Rather, I felt energized because all of these journalists paying attention to these chases showed me that using the media can be a path to lasting change if we can keep the pressure on long enough.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

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