True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa, by Michael Finkel

True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea CulpaTrue Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa by Michael Finkel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t think I could accurately estimate the percentage of time I spent with my mouth hanging open or the number of times I exclaimed, out loud, “Oh, my God!” while reading this book. The sheer audacity and calculated rationalizing of Chris Longo — the convicted murderer around whom this story revolves — are at once both mesmerizing and horrifying.

“True Story” is the perfect title for this book, wherein the author struggles with the honesty/dishonesty of his subject, even as he comes clean about his own journalistic misdeed. I appreciate Finkel’s sharing of his own circumstances, with a detailed explanation of how he came to be fired from the New York Times Magazine, rather than offering excuses and justifications for his behavior.

According to Longo, he and Finkel are both liars, almost brothers in their deception — partially owing to the coincidence of Longo having assumed Finkel’s identity while he was on the lam in Mexico. As Longo keeps spinning his yarns to Finkel in long letters, over the phone, and in prison visits, he never stops offering additional versions of the truth to convince Finkel of his sincerity.

Chillingly, toward the end of the men’s association, Longo comments that it took, “two liars to make two people turn to a path of honesty.” But what is honesty? Based on Longo’s behavior and history, it seems that “truth telling” may be whatever partial, rationalized fiction will cast the narcissist in the best light or allow him to feel morally justified.

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Posted in a reader muses.

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