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True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpaby Michael Finkel
This astonishing account of the relationship between murderer Christian Longo and disgraced New York Times journalist Michael Finkel is mesmerizing. The details are fascinating enough, but Finkel's superb blend of true-crime storytelling and memoir raises this book above many in both genres. You won't be able to put this one down.
"Finkel is still a journalist at heart, doggedly pursuing a story, and he goes on to unpack both Longo's and his own. This is less of a poker game than it sounds; the author, it turns out, has been out-lied by his subject many, many times over. What does emerge is the story, carefully structured, rigorously reported, and fascinating till the end." Anna Godbersen, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review)
Synopses & Reviews
In the haunting tradition of Joe McGinniss's Fatal Vision and Mikal Gilmore's Shot in the Heart, True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa weaves a spellbinding tale of murder, love, and deceit with a deeply personal inquiry into the slippery nature of truth.
The story begins in February of 2002, when a reporter in Oregon contacts New York Times Magazine writer Michael Finkel with a startling piece of news. A young, highly intelligent man named Christian Longo, on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list for killing his entire family, has recently been captured in Mexico, where he'd taken on a new identity — Michael Finkel of the New York Times.
The next day, on page A-3 of the Times, comes another bit of troubling news: a note, written by the paper's editors, explaining that Finkel has falsified parts of an investigative article and has been fired. This unlikely confluence sets the stage for a bizarre and intense relationship. After Longo's arrest, the only journalist the accused murderer will speak with is the real Michael Finkel. And as the months until Longo's trial tick away, the two men talk for dozens of hours on the telephone, meet in the jailhouse visiting room, and exchange nearly a thousand pages of handwritten letters.
With Longo insisting he can prove his innocence, Finkel strives to uncover what really happened to Longo's family, and his quest becomes less a reporting job than a psychological cat-and-mouse game — sometimes redemptively honest, other times slyly manipulative. Finkel's pursuit pays off only at the end, when Longo, after a lifetime of deception, finally says what he wouldn't even admit in court — the whole, true story. Or so it seems.
"In 2001, Finkel fabricated portions of an article he wrote for the New York Times Magazine. Caught and fired, he retreated to his Montana home, only to learn that a recently arrested suspected mass murderer had adopted his identity while on the run in Mexico. In this astute and hypnotically absorbing memoir, Finkel recounts his subsequent relationship with the accused, Christian Longo, and recreates not only Longo's crimes and coverups but also his own. In doing so, he offers a startling meditation on truth and deceit and the ease with which we can slip from one to the other. The narrative consists of three expertly interwoven strands. One details the decision by Finkel, under severe pressure, to lie within the Times article — ironic since the piece aimed to debunk falsehoods about rampant slavery in Africa's chocolate trade — and explores the personal consequences (loss of credibility, ensuing despair) of that decision. The second, longer strand traces Longo's life, marked by incessant lying and petty cheating, and the events leading up to the slayings of his wife and children. The third narrative strand covers Finkel's increasingly involved ties to Longo, as the two share confidences (and also lies of omission and commission) via meetings, phone calls and hundreds of pages of letters, leading up to Longo's trial and a final flurry of deceit by which Longo attempts to offload his guilt. Many will compare this mea culpa to those of Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass, but where those disgraced journalists led readers into halls of mirrors, Finkel's creation is all windows. There are, notably, no excuses offered, only explanations, and there's no fuzzy boundary between truth and deceit: a lie is a lie. Because of Finkel's past transgression, it's understandable that some will question if all that's here is true; only Finkel can know for sure, but there's a burning sincerity (and beautifully modulated writing) on every page, sufficient to convince most that this brilliant blend of true-crime and memoir does live up to its bald title. 4-city author tour. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Always fascinating, sometimes funny, often very weird...simply terrific from the first page to the last." Jeffrey Toobin, CNN senior legal analyst and New Yorker staff writer
Book News Annotation:
Christian Longo, hiding in Mexico from murder charges following the death of his wife and three small children in a seaside town in Oregon, pretends to be Michael Finkel, a young New York Times reporter he's never met. Just about the time Longo is caught and returned for trial, the real Finkel is fired for falsifying parts of an investigative article. After his arrest, the only reporter Longo will speak to is Finkel. The two not only speak, they can hardly stop speaking, conversing for dozens of hours on the telephone, in a jailhouse visiting room, and by way of more than 1,000 pages of handwritten letters. Finkel, disgraced in the eyes of journalism, now puts it all together into a memoir that's also a true- crime chronicle and an inquiry into the nature of truth itself. The volume has no index.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
True Story is the remarkable account of the relationship between a man accused of killing his entire family, and of the New York Times Magazine writer he impersonated while on the run.
An improbable but true real-life thriller: Mike Finkel, a defrocked New York Times writer, enters into a bizarre and intimate friendship with Christian Longo, an accused multiple murderer, now imprisoned, who assumed Finkel's identity while on the run. In the course of the year leading up to Longo's trial, Finkel races to strip away layers of lies — both Longo's and his own — and finally get the true story. Or so he thinks.
About the Author
Michael Finkel has written for the Atlantic Monthly, National Geographic Adventure, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and the New York Times Magazine. He lives in Bozeman, Montana.
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