The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial

I like Maggie Nelson’s work. This is her 2007 memoir about 2005 the cold case murder trial for her aunt Jane’s 1969 killing. She spent five years working on a book of poems about her aunt’s murder, all while a detective in Michigan was working on the cold case, unbeknownst to her. This memoir is an exploration of grief, understanding violence against women, uncovering things deeply buried.

“How does one measure the loss of anyone? Is measurement a necessary part of grief? Is a life less grievable if its prospects for the future… don’t appear bright?”

During the trial, she has drinks with an old friend and walks home to the rented home her mom waits in after a stop by the railroad tracks to lay down and listen to the quiet world. “For as long as I can remember, this has been one of my favorite feelings. To be alone in public, wandering at night, or lying close to the earth, anonymous, invisible, floating… To make your claim on public space even as you feel yourself disappearing into its largesse, into its sublimity. To practice for death by feeling completely empty, but somehow still alive. It’s a sensation that people have tried, in various times and places, to keep women from feeling. Many still try. You’ve been told a million times that to be alone and female and in public late at night is to court disaster, so it’s impossible to know if you’re being bold and free or stupid and self-destructive.”

She finds comfort in the arms of the same lovers I do: Schopenhauer, Winnicott, and various literary lions. Winnicott’s quote, “Fear of breakdown is the fear of a breakdown that has already been experienced,” was solace for Nelson (shoe’s already dropped!) until she realized that it’s not that breakdowns don’t recur but that the fear of the past may cause its repetition.