Satt of the Earth ByJackOlsen St. Martin's Press 376 pages, $24.95 hardcover The once booming genre of True Crime has hit hard times. The number of books sold and titttes issued has receded from its 80s high-water, and even talented practitioners like Edna Buchanan and ourown local master Lowell Cauffiel are tuming to the greener pastures of fiction. It had to happen sometime to a genre that didni even have a name not that long ago. Blame overexposure - too many "instant" books of meager merit and too many televisión movies "inspired by real events" (a euphemism for transforming tangy reality into the usual Hollywood pablum). But there's life in True Crime yet. Although its most popular author Ann Rule's latest book Deadby Midnight didn't become a hard back best-seller, it is comfortably lodged on the paperback list John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden ofGoodand Evil is nothing if not True Crime, and it's been a best-seller for an astonishing 1 1 3 weeks. And there wil always be hope for excellence as long as Jack Olsen is writing. SaÜofiheEsrth, Olsen 's latest, continúes his string of memorable and innovative True Crime books.lnitOlsentellsthestoryof a crime in its full context, tracing the life and destiny of an American family for almost a hundred pages before he allows murderous violence to enter. Olsen details not only the act, but the ripples of its effect on the characters we've grown to know, their community, andeven on thefamily of the criminal The result is a deep, profound visión not only of acrime in America, ixrt of America itself. Since modem day America grants recognition only to those who have achieved the narrow pinnacle of their professions, or to those who have been the vk timsorinstigators of violent crime (henee O.J.'s quantum fame), a book like Salt of the Earth iltuminates lives that are rarely seenon televisión or in print, people who arent usually considered people enough to be included in "People." Along with other recent True Crime books, like the less excellent but quite entertaining A Stranger 'n the Family by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White and All She Wantod by Aphrodite Jones, it's a visión of a socialeconomic class that's neglected if not scomed. These protagonists look up to Oprah as an intellectual avatar, go to Jazzercize, sleep on waterbeds, are part-time cosmetologists, aspire to mobile home dealerships orgood jobs at the nuclear plant, and get picked on at the Kwik Shop inFatts City ormocked at a bam dance in Humbott. It 's class snobbery of course - when the unglamorous (i.e. not wealthy) eire examined in books, it's usually with the sort of anth ropotogical, condese ending "look how the other half lives" style of "K-Mart realism," reading like dispatches to "New Yorker" readers from writing faculty members who may have once been members of the lumpen. If Satt of the Earth had been written by, say , Joyce Caro) Oates and labeled a novel it would be a shoo-n for a Pulitzer. CHsen's focal point, Elaine Gere, is asortof latterday Mother Courage, indomitably keeping her family and her spirit intact through the wasteland of alienation, violence and addiction she's forced to inhabü Searching for roots, security and some hope, she moves from place to place around the country until, almost inevitably, fatal disaster finds her. The perpetrator, the focus of most True Crime books, is here given the supporting role usually giventothevictim. Michael Green emerges as a compelling figure nonetheless, a monsterwreathed in marijuana haze and steroid rage, stalking through his Gatsbyish dreams of self-transformation - wil I he be mean Joe Green, AmokJ Schwarzenegger or Ted Bundy - the kind of dreams that in America always seem to breed nkjhtmares. The flip si de of the academie condescensiontowardthe"cornmon" people is the tablotd sin of sentimentality, but Olsen draws a clear middle path, giving his reporter's attention to the facts, avoiding facile judgements, and presenting a story as striking and heartbreakingasthelifeifsdrawn from.
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