Many writers, even those native to the Highlands can imbue their descriptions with a sense of twee kitsch and a paint by numbers version of what is a beautiful, but highly complex, part of the world. Writing the Highlands is easy, but writing the Highlands well, with a sensitivity to the land and it's deep history is a feat that only those with a unforced empathy can complete.
This is the strength of the book, the deeply personal decades long reflection of the victims family. However, this is not a piece of investigative journalism. So those who are expecting the rigour of someone with the caliber Gregg Olsen will be dissapointed. Cosgrove is aware of this, and admits that in his journalistic career he gravitated towards upbeat fluff pieces, and there are points where this shows.
With the last chapters we look at how Esther's disaperance came to shape their future lives, and became woven into their emotional foundations of those involved. Genuinely, I wept, and who out of us would not weep when we faced with the great tragedy of all human lives, that even when the blissful moments of childhood are infrequent, it is a state we all yearn for, but will never be able to return to, exiled from it as we are by the knowing that we sought, and the knowing which is thrust upon us.
The narrative is deceptively simple, in many ways because to really see the story you have to consider it from so many points of view, consider that what was decidedly make believe to one character was decidedly real to the world in which another lives. That in many ways we are mainly people who just happen to intersect with each other for a short time. It is impossible to truly know how other people really see the world or ourselves. It is so often time that is the only thing that gives us real perspective.
This kind of elitism and snobbishness has always existed in the arts. However what the many who tightly cling to this sense of superiority do not realise is that it is only very recently that realism has crept into literature - think about Homer, Beowulf, Shakespeare with his Wyrd Sisters, Titania and Oberon. Human beings have always enjoyed a good dose of the mysterious, miraculous, mythological and the unexplainable in our stories.
What Russo firmly does is place the outcomes of the cult, within a cultural context of the crumbling American empire, and the death of the public service ideal. By doing this he makes the scared, isolated lives the cult members live much more a symptom of the modern worlds lack of connection, community and shared values, rather than the punchline of a joke.
Bates book is part of a genre I have decided to name True Dystopia, so unrelenting and difficult to counter are the subculture she maps. However, at the end of the book we do gain some glimmers of hope as to how these incidious and dangerous ideas can be dealt with, and it will take a lot more energy and time than I suspect many realise. It is not the internet per say that has created these groups, but general culture, the internet just allowed communications between their individual members, who have used that opportunity the way any living organisim does, to grow, to become stronger, to reproduce.
The Baby Is Mine is an engaging, playful and modern take on the biblical tale Solomon's judgement.
By trying to inhabit both the best of true crime and crime fiction Chizman displays an admirable amount of creative ambition and playfulness. Of course some of the best work in true crime comes is in the first person, and to truely inhabit that position he has to write as himslef. There is the added bonus that this lends great authenticity to the time and place, but this is perhapse at the expense of the telling the story, and it feels to me that in this novel at least everything should be in greater service to the story.
It is a sign that Black is a talented writer, not just scientist, that she can translated these parts of ourselves, that literally no one ever wants to see, into not just a compelling read but an education tool that reframes our internal world.