Thursday, June 6, 2013

AMERICAN HONOR KILLINGS: Desire and Rage Among Men

Akashic Books
$15.95 trade paper, available now

Reviewed by Richard, 5* of five

The Publisher Says: In American Honor Killings, straight and gay guys cross paths, and the result is murder. But what really happened? What role did hatred play? What were the men involved really like, and what was going on between them when the murder occurred? American Honor Killings explores the truth behind squeamish reporting and uninformed political rants of the far right or fringe left. David McConnell, a New York-based novelist, researched cases from small-town Alabama to San Quentin's death row. The book recounts some of the most notorious crimes of our era.

Beginning in 1999 and lasting until the 2011 conviction of a youth in Queens, New York, the book shows how some murderers think they're cleaning up society. Surprisingly, other killings feel almost preordained, not a matter of the victim's personality or actions so much as a twisted display of a young man's will to compete or dominate. We want to think these stories involve simple sexual conflict, either the killer's internal struggle over his own identity or a fatally miscalculated proposition. They're almost never that simple.

Together, the cases form a secret American history of rage and desire. McConnell cuts through cant and political special pleading to turn these cases into enduring literature. In each story, victims, murderers, friends, and relatives come breathtakingly alive. The result is more soulful, more sensitive, more artful than the sort of "true crime” writing the book was modeled on. A wealth of new detail has been woven into old cases, while new cases are plumbed for the first time. The resulting stories play out exactly as they happened, an inexorable sequence of events—grisly, touching, disturbing, sometimes even with moments of levity.

My Review: It is no secret that I'm a leftist, anti-religion queer. I loathe the existence of the systems of "Rightness" that the murderers in these crimes use to justify their actions. The mere ability of a person to point to a bible and have any segment of society secretly or not-so-secretly justify or even agree with the heinous crime of murder is shameful to us as a society.

That said, it's still true. These accounts of the motives and actions of some seriously mentally ill young men, certain that they are Right and they are Correct in the actions, are enlightening and chilling.

I spent most of the time I read this book alternating between scaring my dog with loud, rasping screeches of outraged indignation that such stupidity is allowed to exist by this gawd person most of these boys, their families, and their communities profess belief in, and miserable, hopeless weeping of sympathetic pain at the agonies of loss, grief, and longing that the families, the parents, the loving friends of the murdered men will spend the rest of their lives experiencing, because the holey babble and its hellspawn idiot-friendly "culture" don't like the idea of men having sex with each other.

Who cares what you think? Did someone ask you? Drag your mind out of the prurient gutter of thinking about what other people do in their bedrooms.

McConnell has written a book as horrifying and as necessary as [In Cold Blood], and as likely to stand the test of time as a document of the consequences of sociopathic thinking. I can't recommend that you read it; but really, you should. Depressingly, most of you won't. It's not YOUR friend, brother, cousin, so why bother?

Because until people confront the horrible consequences of their smug, exclusionary language of "salvation" and the like, this won't be the last time a book like this is necessary.

I received a review copy of the book from Akashic Books.