Top critical review
A murder story, as told by the victim's self-centered, narcissistic niece.
Reviewed in the United States on December 21, 2017
Maggie Nelson never met her aunt Jane - Jane was murdered years before Maggie was born. Nevertheless, when the cold case unexpectedly breaks open decades later by new DNA evidence and a suspect is arrested, Maggie decides she must "bear witness" to the trial. She travels from NYC to Michigan to reunite with her mother, her grandfather, and other family to witness the proceedings.
This could have been compelling but it mostly fails for me because the author's lack of focus and self-indulgence are too much of a distraction. There's no other way to say it: she comes off as a self-centered, narcissistic drama queen. She somehow takes a story about her murdered aunt and the man on trial for it, and makes it all about herself. Her avowed purpose was to "bear witness" to the trial, but she actually seems to have been rather bored by the trial, provides only scant detail about it, and instead treats us all to long, meandering daydreams about her lovers, ex-lovers, books she's read, other books she's written, childhood anecdotes, etc. There's an incredible human drama unfolding around her in this case, but most of it takes a back seat to what Nelson really cares about: her own precious insights and memories about tangential matters.
There are also some episodes of self-aggrandizement that don't ring true. There are times when Nelson represents that she's so distraught by her loss that goes off alone and does things like walk around in the pouring rain, or lay down in the mud staring at the sky just thinking, thinking... But remember that Nelson's aunt died before she was born. She never knew her. Now, if an aunt or uncle I never knew was murdered, I'm sure I'd feel some sorrow over that and I'd especially feel sympathy for my parents, grandparents and other relatives who were more directly affected by it. But would that murder really haunt me throughout my life, would it cause me to occasionally lay down in the mud and stare at the sky? Of course not. It was during these moments of The Red Parts where the term "drama queen" comes to mind.