Note: The following review is for the memoir True Story written by Michael Finkel, this is not about the recent film adaptation staring Jonah Hill and James Franco. However, I will be seeing that film this week to write a comparison!
There are no words to describe True Story that will do it justice, but I will do my best to find some that come close. I have read close to 100 different true crime accounts and novels in my life so far, on top of the countless other nonfiction pieces, but I feel a way that I have never felt before after completing this beautiful memoir.
True Story by Michael Finkel tells the story of Christian Michael Longo, a man believed to have murdered his entire family and then fled the country to Mexico. Finkel has recently been fired from The New York Times Magazine for falsifying a boy he claimed to have interviewed for a story. Longo has created an identity of Finkel while living down in Mexico for a few weeks and Finkel is informed of this via telephone by a reporter at the Oregonian.
From here Finkel begins talking with Longo via telephone and mail in an attempt to learn more about the man who impersonated him after allegedly killing his family. Through the correspondence of Longo we learn how endearing and trustworthy he is and, despite his potential killing of his own children, we begin to enjoy and trust him. Without a doubt the man is intelligent, but we start to see a pattern with his behavior about halfway through the book. Finkel is a master at bringing you along for the ride and having you experience the very emotions we can assume that he did while talking with Longo.
While True Story is amazingly well-written and Finkel is a wonderful narrator, I started to distrust him. It wasn’t because of his flop with the Times either, it’s because I have seen this relationship between writer and subject before. Fans of the podcast series Serial may remember the relationship between Sarah Koenig and Adnan Syed throughout the investigation of his alleged murder of the girl Hae Min Lee. While you are hearing the facts from Koenig you may begin to wonder if she is, in fact, pleading for Adnan’s innocence herself. While she does not come out and say it fully, she has an underlying tone of trying to convince her audience that the man she spent so long talking with and, presumably, trusting is telling the truth.
Finkel uses the exact same method while writing True Story, and as a reader I can’t help but feel betrayed. Around Chapter 26 is when I stopped trusting Finkel because the way he was writing became very pleading, but I think that is the beauty of his writing and reporting. Finkel writes exactly what he is feeling and what he is learning about Longo as soon as he learns or feels it. By doing so it makes the reader feel as if they are learning and feeling these things instead of Finkel and he, much like the readers, was fooled into trusting someone he had every reason not to. So Finkel is not, himself, deceiving us but Longo is in the same way that he deceived Finkel for over a year.
This deception and abuse of trust is what made me feel so connected to the book. I felt every lie and deceit, when Finkel begged Longo forgiveness it felt as if I were begging Longo for forgiveness. And, in the end, when Finkel begins to distrust and grow apart from Longo, I began to do the same. The reason it took me two days instead of one to finish this book is simply because I had to force myself to put it down, I felt that connected to the story.
True Story has not received nearly enough attention for its beauty and magnificence. I encourage you to pick up or download a copy as soon as possible. I will leave an Amazon link below to pick it up. I have to say this is one of the best nonfiction pieces I’ve ever read and is up there with Helter Skelter for my favorite true crime book! Do yourself a favor and read it soon.
I will be seeing the film this week or next and doing a comparison review/just film review so look for that soon!
Amazon (it’s the original just a reprint with Epilogue): Here
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