The movie "True Story" had been in my queue for a while, so I watched it one lazy night a few months ago. The movie was just okay, but as fans of this blog know, I am madly in love with true crime. So I did some digging, read some articles about the case, then decided to check out the work of Michael Finkel himself, True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa.
Christian Longo murdered his wife and three children. He was not only found guilty, but he ultimately admitted to the murders, was sentenced to death, and then was put to death of years ago. The crime itself is disgusting and painful, but what follows is terribly fascinating. After he goes on the run, he assumed the name Michael Finkel while in Mexico, claiming to be the disgraced New York Times journalist. When Finkel finds out about this, he contacts Longo and forms a friendship that spans from immediately after the man's arrest and through his trial. In a way, each man uses the other; Longo for someone to tell his story and Finkel for a way out of his man-made hole into personal and professional redemption. What results is an inter-dependent relationship where each man bares his soul to the other, although one is far from honest with the other.
This book pleasantly surprised me. I picked it up thinking that it was going to basically just be a masturbatory project for Finkel. I was worried it was going to be a self aggrandizement for the disgraced journalist, laying out his woes and finding a way to be redeemed in his career. Surprisingly, I found this to be an incredibly compelling story that didn't necessarily focus on giving Longo the fame he didn't deserve for slaughter and his family, but told a story about a man who is a full-scale narcissist and absolutely off his rocker. I found that I couldn't put this book down because it was so captivating and interesting. I found it to be a treatise on what happens when you get into deep. Finkel was grasping onto straws for anyone who would be outside of his world, and Longo fit the bill. It's just that Longo himself was a liar.
It's easy to be swept up by non-truths when that is what we want to hear and to believe. I believe that Finkel wanted to believe that Longo could potentially be not be guilty, and even though I was reading this book after the man was put to death, it's clear from an outside perspective that he was a liar at best and dangerous at worst. Hearing his version of his family's financial woes was interesting in that it's clear the woes were Christian's fault. While in his telling, it's a series of unfortunate events that happened to him rather than because of him. Since one of the things I happened to study is attribution theory, which is a model for how we attribute outcomes happening either to us or because of us, I was able to pinpoint him very easily. If you are interested in a an intimate and intricate study of how a man's twisted mind works, this is your book. I also appreciated Finkel's personal commentary, and his self examination of his own thoughts on Christian and his work throughout the process of these interviews. He has clearly spent a lot of time examining his own thoughts and biases, which makes for a worthy read.