Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

True Crime and the Smart Set

I've been reading Savage Grace by Natalie Robins and Steven M.L. Aronson, the 1985 true crime classic about the Baekeland family, heirs to the Bakelite fortune. For those unfamiliar with the story (or the 2007 film adaptation starring Julianne Moore), in 1972, Barbara Daly Baekeland was murdered by her son, Antony.

After the murder, all kinds of horrifying things came out about the family. Barbara had enlisted women to bed her son, who was gay, in an attempt to "fix" him, and there was some speculation that Barbara had seduced Antony herself. And then there was Barbara's husband, Brooks, who ran off with one of Antony's "girlfriends." That barely scratches the surface, but you can Wikipedia that business to learn more.

The surprising thing about the book is that Robins and Aronson got access to court proceedings, confidential medical records, Antony's letters written from prison and mental institutions, and pretty much the entire Baekeland family and their smart set friends for the book, which is edited as a compilation of these papers and interviews.

The interview subjects are like something right out of Cheever, bon vivants, idle rich jet-setters, wealthy artistic sorts, and the tossers-off of the well-placed beau geste. While talking about the crime, their stories are peppered with meals eaten, art purchased, places summered, parties thrown. As for the murder itself, it's spoken of as though it were an unfortunate, unpleasant thing, not a brutal, twisted crime. And Tony, that poor lamb.

Despite this tone, most of the subjects are rather keen to chat and make a good showing in the story. To read their accounts of the murder, you'd think that they'd personally been stabbed in the chest in a London kitchen, but that the whole thing had been rather a nuisance.

I haven't decided whether this is interesting or highly annoying yet, but I'll give it a few more chapters.


trish said...

Why are people's lurid lives so fascinating? If I can mooch the book, I will (despite your qualms), otherwise I guess I'll just read the wikipedia article.

mary_m said...

The very rich are not like you and me, indeed, and for that, it's totally worth a skim.

Really, these people speak at great lengths about the liquor they consumed and the quality of vacationer abroad that summer, but that this woman and her son were engaged in a weird and entirely inappropriate relationship escapes their notice entirely.

It is something to behold.