When Killers Fancy Storytelling,
It’s Our Vanity That Gets Exposed
To the chronically gloomy and the pathological self defeatist, few things seem more pointless than the wish to be remembered. To transcend this mortal coil, or at least outlast your lifetime-guaranteed Zippo, holds no court down where wilted, anxious-to-be-forgotten souls dwell.
Yet, to leave a legacy is not a monopoly of the naked ape. From time immemorial, tiny male spiders beat gruesome competition, only to be swallowed by giant mates. Far from suicidal, they’s only seizing the chance to leapfrogging a generation and add their genes to the future.
A similar urge may have driven Italian Giuseppe Grassonelli, in prison for Mafia-related crimes, and Canadian Robert Pickton, a convicted serial killer, to write their stories. When one won a literary prize and the other appeared on Amazon, people got shocked, shocked.
Neither role models nor bottom feeders, they still stand above child-abusing priests, or pension-savings raiders, on some vain moralistic stepladder. Yet while padres and Wall Street psychopaths often carry jail-free cards, Grassonelli and Pickton are both convicted lifers.
They’re all depraved, that’s for sure. But like anyone, it’s their right to tell their story. Again, no prize or blockbuster sale will cleanse the books’ blood stains or redeem the authors before their victims’ grief. But hey, Hollywood makes a killing just trading on such stories.
All this canned outrage about what’s basically someone trying to control their own narrative sounds utterly phony. While we know the score about these two cons, it’s a wild guess to imagine what those feigning rectitude hide in their own closets. But let’s meet our duo.
TALES OF THE MALAVITA
Almost two years ago, when Malerba won the Sciascia Racalmare prize, there was furor in Italy over this confessed killer’s boldly fictionalized account about the Cosa Nostra and its ruthless grip over Sicily, between the 1980s and 1990s. And lots of anger from relatives of the dead too.
What irked them, more than Grassonelli’s preposterous claim to redemption, was the prize itself, named after a famous writer and critic of Italian organized crime, Leonardo Sciascia. It was partially due to his efforts that public opinion turned negative toward the Mafiosi.
Many a Mafia tale has been told, but this was written by an insider’s own blood-dripping hands. Who’s always eager to add that he didn’t break the Omèrta, the feared code of silence. Since he’s still alive, he probably didn’t. In any case, there’s only time in his hands now, since he’s going nowhere for a long long time.
WORDS OF A RAVENOUS PIG
Last January, Robert Pickton, in His Own Words, written by one Michael Chilldress, appeared briefly on Amazon’s book list, before being withdrawn under request of its self-publishing service (more)
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publisher. So it remains unclear whether it’d become a best seller.
It was a convicted killer’s attempt, under an assumed name, to divert blame, so it gathered zero sympathy towards him. Pickton will spend the rest of his life in prison for the murders of at least six sex workers in British Columbia in the late 1990s. But DNA evidence links the former pig farmer to over 30 other victims.
Unlike Giuseppe, Pickton maintains innocence, and the book mixes passages of the Bible with jail interview transcripts. Like the little spiderlings, minus the nobility, he wants to be remembered. For everybody else, though, he’s a nightmare they want to forget.
A BED IN THE KILLER’S APARTMENT
A few years ago, as doubts about the so-called New Economy began to creep in, there were still claims that it’d imbue people of a new sense of trust. Since we’d hire strangers to drive us home late at night, or book a last-minute mattress in their pad, even serial killers would suddenly turn charitable and control their impulses
It didn’t take long for the hoax to come undone. Instead of trust, the new deal was just an excuse to take away hard-won labor rights from workers, and turn a handful of privileged kids into overnight billionaires. No stats pointed that it had anything to do with lower crime rates.
These two books are part of the general trend, of everyone’s sharing everything with anyone, even if’d cost their privacy. But more than Fido’s latest antics, Grassonelli and Pickton are longing for a more basic, and ancient, human desire.
WHAT DOES THAT SAY ABOUT US?
They’d hate to be forgotten, just like lovers’ hearts scratched on still standing trees are an attempt at immortality, of distinction among a sea of anonymity. Decent people still prefer discretion when doing the right thing and are happy to remain opaque to the public; not serial killers, apparently. Decades after Charles Starkweather has been executed, movies and plays about him and his teenage lover’s killing rampage are still popular. They seldom shown the heartbreak, and suicides, and tragedy, left on their wake. That won’t go away, and neither will their baby faces.
Which is not say, let’s edit the past and erase from memory the ‘bad’ parts. Banning the reissue of Hitler’s Mein Kampf in Brazil, for instance, won’t affect how hate crimes continue to be perpetrated. It’ll only rob a new generation of some insight on a mass murderer’s head.
It’s our own obsession with killers what fuels interest on them, not the memories of damaged minds who committed horrendous crimes. The more we know about them, the better view of the mediocre single-mindness of their lives. And the deeper the relief of knowing that, at least, in some cases, some do get caught.