Book reviews: an insider’s account of the OJ Simpson murder trial
Plus: an unfamiliar take on incarceration as the coming-of-age story of a civilian cook, and the latest slice of memoirist Augusten Burroughs’ life
By Christopher Darden
Graymalkin Media (e-book)
You can’t keep a good murder case down, not when it has so much potential for earning so many entertainment dollars. And not many have greater potential than the case of the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman, starring that upstanding hero of screen and stadium, ex-American footballer and jobbing actor O.J. Simpson. It was the case that had everything: a seemingly guilty celebrity facing a potential death penalty, blood, gore, a bizarre highway chase shown live on air that brought in record ratings and, at the end of it all, a not-guilty verdict that amplified the already toxic wedge the televised trial had helped thrust between black and white America. Today the case remains in robust health thanks to the likes of a recent blockbuster TV series and, now in electronic format, an insider’s account written in the fallout of a verdict neither the pro- nor anti-Simpson ranks could quite believe. Over-dramatised at times – thanks perhaps to its ghost writer – In Contempt nevertheless encapsulates in explication and title co-prosecutor Chris Darden’s feelings for a discredited judge, the American judicial system, his courtroom adversaries and the rampant racism that coloured proceedings.
Prisoner in the Kitchen: the Car Thief, the Murderer, and the Man Hired to Feed Them
By William Bonham
Simon & Schuster (e-book)
William Bonham’s engrossing memoir of life in an American maximum-security prison might not have garnered the attention it deserves had it not won a competition for the genre organised partly by The Huffington Post. The seemingly limitless supply of prison books and movies – Papillon, The Green Mile, even Orange is the New Black – attests to a fascination with a life most people will never experience. Sampling such a dangerous, alien world vicariously is a safe option, however misinformed and misleading some creative works may be. Prisoner in the Kitchen not only avoids such pitfalls, but gives an unfamiliar take on incarceration as the coming-of-age story of neither inmate nor guard but a civilian cook. Bonham, a serial wanderer of 23, had worked his way through diners across the United States before landing in Montana in need of a job. His next position would see him supervising a convict detail that prepared and served inmates’ meals. Despite predictable warnings, the greenhorn, who came to realise he was doing time just as the prisoners were, developed a camaraderie with his crew that was shattered in a harrowing incident that would torpedo his values and judgment.
Lust & Wonder: a Memoir
By Augusten Burroughs
Macmillan Audio (audiobook)
Augusten Burroughs tells it like it was – and tells it and tells it. This latest slice of the memoirist’s life occupies a sixth volume and a two-decade period in which he sees his literary aspirations mature into the power to shift books by the tonne. The background is New York and the proclivity gay, aspects of the genre that unfortunately are already clichés. And despite the promise of the title, any insalubrity soon yields to the mundane as Burroughs ploughs into one tepid anecdote after another. He doesn’t have a stand-up’s delivery or timing here, narrating his own work (although to be fair his real job is to write the words, not speak them), his proficiency with a punchline still greater on the page than in the ether. After a quick foray into fiction, Burroughs found a rich comedic furrow with Running with Scissors, his first appraisal of what had hitherto been a harsh life. Repeated returns to pastures old mean the field may soon be fallow: episodes of Lust are reminiscent of parts of 2003 memoir Dry – which Burroughs’ well may in fact be running.