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Authors: Maggie Nelson

The Red Parts

BOOK: The Red Parts
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Praise for
The Red Parts

“What feels tragic here is not the clinical recounting of Jane’s murder, but the effect it has had on the family…. Alternating between a narrative of the trial and a rambling exploration of her own life, Nelson examines the many stereotypes and clichés of murder, making it seem that no subject could possibly be more embedded in the American consciousness…. Nelson is refreshingly self-critical—of herself and her writing project. She never figures out what it is that compels her to sit at the trial, ‘jotting down all the gory details, no different or better than anyone else.’ Is it that she wants Jane’s life to matter, she wonders, or her own?”

The New York Times Book Review

“A book-long riff on the first-person essay that Joan Didion built. A genre-buster with an engaging prose style, Nelson intertwines psychoanalysis, personal memoir, and true-crime tidbits into a darkly intelligent page-turner…. Nelson eschews tidy resolution. She argues that stories are by nature imperfect—and yet she also shows us how they can become totally worthwhile.”

Time Out

The Red Parts
feels rushed, frenzied—in a positive, powerful way. While the re-opening of Jane’s case provides a plot, the book is also an autopsy, an examination (both implicit and explicit) on our cultural fascination with voyeurism, death, sex, and misogyny. Instead of distancing herself from these subjects, Nelson is fascinated by them, and acknowledges her complicity, her inability to escape from certain habits of thought, whether these be ‘murder mind,’ ‘suicide mind,’ or more everyday (though no less traumatic) ruts—her problems dealing with a junkie boyfriend, abandonment by her lover, getting along with her mother and extended family during the long process of the trial. In sum,
The Red Parts
is a tour de force.”

Pop Matters

“Nelson’s cathartic narrative encompasses closure of unrelated events in her own life, such as mourning her dead father, dealing with a recent heartache and reconciling with her once-wayward sister. Her narrative is wrenching.”

Publishers Weekly

“Nelson’s account is lucid, her head clear, and her writing strong. Memories of her childhood—particularly of her father, who died when she was a girl—are the most emotionally charged elements. But her wry and honest account of the clownish calamity of the courtroom and the impending media circus (Nelson was on
48 Hours Mystery
) are also affecting…. A much-needed reminder of the long, painful aftermath of heinous crimes.”


“Very rarely does a book come along that combines such extraordinary lyricism and ethical precision with the sense that the author is writing for her very life.
The Red Parts
is one of these. At every turn of this riveting, genre-defying account, Nelson refuses complacency and pushes further into the unknown. A necessary, austere, and deeply brave achievement.”

—Annie Dillard

“In this book Maggie Nelson takes on the difficult and urgent task of paying close attention to something terrible, the murder of a family member. She also pays attention to the pitfalls of trying to know and say something true about this terrible event and its consequences. The beauty and importance of
The Red Parts
derives not only from Nelson’s astonishing skill with language, but from the bravery, generosity, and painstaking honesty with which she approaches her hard subject and her hard-won understanding of it.”

—Matthew Sharpe

The Red Parts
is a riveting read—Didion-esque in its tough clarity, its understatement, and its sheen. Like any great memoirist, Maggie Nelson is a born trespasser, with an exquisitely calibrated moral conscience. From nightmare she has constructed indelible literature.”

—Wayne Koestenbaum

The Red Parts

Also by Maggie Nelson

The Argonauts

The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning


Women, the New York School, and Other True Abstractions

Jane: A Murder

Something Bright, Then Holes

The Latest Winter


The Red Parts

Maggie Nelson

Graywolf Press

Copyright © 2007 by Maggie Nelson

Preface to paperback edition © 2016 by Maggie Nelson

The author and Graywolf Press have provided this e-book to you for your personal use only. You may not make this e-book publicly available in any way. Copyright infringement is against the law. If you believe the copy of this e-book you are reading infringes on the author’s copyright, please notify Graywolf Press at:

First published in 2007 by Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

This publication is made possible, in part, by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund, and through a grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation Minnesota. Significant support has also been provided by Target, the McKnight Foundation,, and other generous contributions from foundations, corporations, and individuals. To these organizations and individuals we offer our heartfelt thanks.

Published by Graywolf Press

250 Third Avenue North, Suite 600

Minneapolis, Minnesota 55401

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States of America

ISBN 978-1-55597-736-8

Ebook ISBN 978-1-55597-928-7

2   4   6   8   9   7   5   3   1

First Graywolf Printing, 2016

Library of Congress Control Number: 2015953598

Cover design: Kimberly Glyder Design

This book is a memoir, which is to say that it relies on my memory and consists primarily of my personal interpretations of events and, where indicated, my imaginative recreation of them. Conversations and other events have been re-created to evoke the substance of what was said or what occurred, but are not intended to be perfect representations.

For Christina Crosby and Janet Jakobsen,

who train in the fire, and do the world justice.

For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known.

—LUKE 12:2

In all desire to know there is already a drop of cruelty.



Preface to the Paperback Edition

Murder Mind

An Inheritance

The Face of Evil

A Live Stream

The Red Parts


Red House

American Taboo

Murder Mind, Redux

To Hell or Bust


After Justice

The Book of Shells

At the Tracks


Poetic License

The End of the Story

In the Victim Room


Open Murder

The Hand of God


Sources and Resources


Preface to the Paperback Edition

At the opening of Peter Handke’s
A Sorrow Beyond Dreams
, a devastating sliver of a book that Handke reportedly wrote in the two months directly following his mother’s suicide, he writes: “My mother has been dead for almost seven weeks; I had better get to work before the need to write about her, which I felt so strongly at her funeral, dies away and I fall back into the dull speechlessness with which I reacted to the news of her suicide. Yes, get to work…. As usual when engaged in literary work, I am alienated from myself and transformed into an object, a remembering and formulating machine.”

The reopening of my aunt Jane’s murder case in 2005—though nowhere near as psychically catastrophic as a mother’s suicide—induced in me a remarkably similar mood. After attending the suspect’s trial in July 2005, I felt an intense rush to record all the details before being swallowed up, be it by anxiety, grief, amnesia, or horror; to transform myself or my material into an aesthetic object, one which might stand next to, or in for, or as the last impediment to, the dull speechlessness that makes remembering and formulating impossible. And so. After the trial,
nel mezzo del camin
, I set up shop in a city completely alien to me (Los Angeles), and wrote this account in a heightened, concentrated, occasionally reckless state of mind.
A Sorrow Beyond Dreams
sat on my desk throughout, as goad and guide.
Yes, get to work.

What effect do years, even decades, have on a piece of writing that self-consciously attests to the turbulent, raw, and rushed circumstances of its composition and publication? In the case of Handke’s book, the performance feels no less electric, but time has added to it a certain uncanniness—that of psychological exigency suspended eerily, beautifully, in that outside-of-time place that literature can create. I can only hope something of the same might be said of this new edition of
The Red Parts
, which has given me the dual gift of protecting the book (for the time being, anyway) from a different kind of dull speechlessness—that of unavailability—while also bringing into focus the book I always hoped
The Red Parts
might one day become: a peculiar, pressurized meditation on time’s relation to violence, to grief, thankfully untethered from the garish rubrics of “current events,” “true crime,” or even “memoir.”

One aim I had while writing was to allow the events of the trial, the events of my childhood, the events of Jane’s murder, and the act of writing to share a single spatial and temporal moment. At one point in
The Red Parts
, this intermingling is imagined as a place, a “dark crescent of land, where suffering is essentially meaningless, where the present collapses into the past without warning, where we cannot escape the fates we fear the most, where heavy rains come and wash bodies up and out of their graves, where grief lasts forever and its force never fades.” I’m glad to say that the prescriptive severity of this image has receded for me, at least for the moment. But the importance of allowing oneself (of allowing myself, I should say) to stay in its grip for some real time has not. I’m grateful, once again, to send in this report from the field.

Maggie Nelson

Los Angeles, 2015

The Red Parts
Murder Mind

E HAVE EVERY reason to believe this case is moving swiftly toward a successful conclusion.

These were the words spoken by a detective from the Michigan State Police, in a phone call to my mother, one afternoon in early November 2004. After hanging up with the detective, my mother called me and repeated the message.

BOOK: The Red Parts
6.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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