The Red Parts - Maggie Nelson

The Red Parts tells the story of Maggie Nelsons aunt Jane, who has been brutally murdered in 1969. 35 years after her death the real perpetrator has been caught and an arrest is about to happen (prior to this the death of Jane Mixer has been attributed to the "Michigan Murder" killer). Nelson takes the trial as a starting point to explore what kind of impact the death of Jane and the trial so many years later had on her family and herself. The Red Parts is much more an autobiographic account of Nelson´s family than a true crime account of the murder of Jane Mixer.


I have to admit there is something about this book that really bugged me and I don´t know exactly what it is. It´s my second attempt at an autobiography and both books have been about dysfunctional families. And I guess I have a problem with reading about dysfunctional families through the eyes of a family member, who clearly has issues himself and isn´t able to reflect proberly just how flawed and troubled the family actually is.

Nelson never proberly explores the behaviour of the other family members and their reactions during and after the trial (and the end of the trial doesn´t change the family in any way). For instance she never gives her family an opportunity to express their own thoughts on a particular topic:


Because there is currently no way to date DNA. under the right light, cells from thousands of years ago would glow right alongside the cells we are leaving in our wake today. Under the right light, the present and the past are indistinguishable.

This is bad news for someone hoping to "get away with murder," especially if his or her DNA has somehow made it into CODIS. I have no plans to murder anyone, but nonetheless I am glad that Schroeder does not ask me to provide a sample of my DNA to the state, as he does my mother, grandfather and uncle. The state wants genetic profiles related to Jane´s on file, so as to eliminate her as a possible contributor to DNA found at the crime scene. [...] I´m reminded of this all the more when my mother voices some skepticism about the Power of DNA testing, [...]


That is about the only thing that the mother comments on and apparently that is the only gripe that the mother, the grandfather and the uncle has with being catalogued in a DNA-database on a voluntary basis. If they have a problem with it, Nelson doesn´t bother to adress it.


Instead Nelson jumps through episodes of her own life, coming up with an odd murder mind / suicide mind theory which is baffling. And she just dumps too much personal informations and episodes of her life on the reader, some of them being downright repelling:


On my last night in the Gowanus loft my boyfriend asked if he could choke me with a silk stocking while we fucked. I assented; I even got the stocking out of my drawer myself. I have always had an erotic fondness for asphyxiation. It feels good not to breath a short while before coming, so that when you finally come and breathe together, you get an astonishing rush: the world comes back to you in a flood of color, pleasure, and breath.

I did not know that earlier that day he had read my journal, and had there found out that I was in love with someone else, that I had made love with someone else. I had only told him that I was leaving. As we had sex I suddenly suspected that he knew more than I´d told him. I suspected this when I said, aghast, "This is how Jane died", and he said, without missing beat, "I know".


Dear author, there is something like too much information.


Due to my lack in expertise when it comes to autobiographies I don´t feel comfortable in saying this is a bad book. And I certainly enjoyed reading some parts of it (especially the chapters about the murder trial). But there were things that didn´t work for me and left me with a queasy feeling.