The Mad Sculptor

Howard Schechter

PUBLISHED 02.18.2014

09.15.2018 – 09.19.2018

GENRE Nonfiction


better true crime

Buzzkill alert

I think it’s finally time to admit that my appetite for true crime is just not that large. (I’ve actually admitted this many times before, mostly on my locked and therefore unembeddable twitter, but let’s gloss over that.) I appreciate a good story, especially a pulpy one like this, but I grow tired of reading about some young woman (or in this case, young and old woman) brutally murdered by a man whose violence is classified as psychotic or psychopathic. The details of these cases change, but the skeleton remains the same. (Obviously there are those that build on this to create something more interesting, like Michelle McNamara’s wonderful and wrenching weaving in of her own experience and hardship writing I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.)

I had a whole extra paragraph written up but it essentially just repeated the one above. At the end of the day, while this book tried to tie the crime in with 19whatevers New York and Beekman Place specifically, it was just another man who brutally murdered women. What’s the point? There were interesting parts of the book of course, mostly having to do with the trial & insanity defense, and the twist (I guess) of the waitress discovering him in Denver or Chicago or wherever, but those weren’t the focus, and the murderer being an artist, which I suppose is the unique part of the central story, didn’t change the book’s bones. 

The reason I keep bringing up gender is because as with many crime stories, it does play out within the standard paradigm. Mandy Patinkin said it when he quit Criminal Minds:

The biggest public mistake I ever made was that I chose to do Criminal Minds in the first place. I thought it was something very different. I never thought they were going to kill and rape all these women every night, every day, week after week, year after year. It was very destructive to my soul and my personality… I’m concerned about the effect it has. Audiences all over the world use this programming as their bedtime story. This isn’t what you need to be dreaming about.

(I don’t totally buy that Homeland is the “antidote,” but a man’s gotta make a living, so I forgive it.)

If the “point” of this book is just to tell this story I guess I’m struggling to see why the story needs to be told. Does it tell us anything we didn’t already know about the terror a jealous man can inflict upon a woman? Does it tell us anything we didn’t know about how innocent people – women – get caught when a frustrated man turns to violence? Does it tell us anything we didn’t know about how growing up neglected and in poverty can continue the cycle of crime and abuse? Why should I spend time reading this story?

Of course this isn’t Schechter’s fault. I’m sure he’s a fine crime writer. Everything I’ve said here could apply, with tweaks, to most true crime we’re exposed to nowadays. It really is just Not My Thing, and perhaps it’s pearl-clutching to say, but it concerns me that it’s still Our Thing as a society. I think more true crime could do to ask what these horrific acts of violence can teach us rather than just what happened, how we can treat them with respect rather than literary rubbernecking, and whether it’s a story that truly hasn’t been told before.