TW: rape and murder
I finally got the house back to myself yesterday after the six month holiday school break. (That's not an exaggeration. If anything, I'm underestimating how long the kids were home- we all have knee-length beards now). I cleaned, cooked a big ol' meal, organized a family budget, chatted with the dog. I did all this while listening to Jessica Knoll's new book, Bright Young Women, a fictionalized account from the perspectives of the survivors of notorious misogynist prolific killer, Ted Bundy, in the late '70s. It follows the locations and timeframe and rough description of what happened when the victims- mostly white women in their early 20s- encountered the killer, but then imagines the characters' back stories and trauma response and crime-solving and romantic sub-plots. They all have big stories before him and those who live, after him, as well. Those who had life plans he thwarted are given massive respect and honor. The narrative focuses on those whose lives were interrupted/ended more than the man who did it.
I don't typically do true crime/murder, especially when sexual violence is involved, but through this lens, I found it tolerable and even hopeful. It's not like I'm NOT going to have nightmares for the next month, but it felt worthwhile to put myself through this in the end, for the stories that were told and the points that were made.
One of the main messages throughout is, what the fuck is wrong with us as a society that we are infatuated with this guy?? Not why are we intrigued by his pathology- human's capacity for violence of this kind will never not be interesting- but how did THIS guy convince us all that he was somehow special, somehow more than his horrifying acts? The whole country was/is still rather smitten with him- Zac Efron recently starred in yet another adaptation of his story. He had fans and girlfriends- got married and fathered a child with one he met while in prison- and when he was put to death for his crimes, many people grieved hard.
Through the observations and reflections of the characters- we're reminded that, while "the defendant" was known for being handsome, charming, slick, and articulate, it was shoddy police work and sexism that helped him thrive long enough to murder 30+ women. He wasn't educated or especially intelligent. He tended to rant incoherently when given a platform and, contrary to popular myth that he defended himself in court had a whole team of defense attorneys who did the real work. He escaped twice from jail and lured dozens of victims into places he could attack them by playing wounded, wearing disguises, and appealing to their pity and notions of the safety of men who look like him.
Basically, there's nothing extremely average white men can't get away with because we hold them to such pitifully low standards. (I kept thinking, "Do Trump next! Do Trump next!") The other premise is that women can survive and thrive even when facing unthinkable trauma and a system that forever works against us. She's saying, please forget this man. He was forgettable except for the pain he caused. We have to stop ignoring/ celebrating that in our men.
I recommend it if you're into girl power, LGBTQIA love stories, and true-ish crime. I also found her book, "Luckiest Girl Alive" and its Hulu adaptation with Mila Kunis, equally empowering and page-turning, also about women surviving men's crimes.