Review: Thirteen Girls 0 Comments

Review: Thirteen Girls

Ted Bundy. Son of Sam. The Hillside Stranglers. While much has been written about such men, the same cannot be said of their victims. If remembered at all, it is often only posthumously, as icons of innocence and ill fortune, or worse—mere notches on a serial killer’s belt.

Mikita Brottman’s Thirteen Girls is a collection of stories about thirteen young women whose lives have collided with the dark urges of some of America’s most notorious murderers. Although each story is based on or inspired by an actual case, Brottman never names the killers themselves, rendering them faceless in an artful reversal of roles. Likewise, the details of each girl’s death are secondary to the effects she has on the lives of those around her, from family members to homicide detectives to the homeless man who stumbles upon her body.

Thirteen Girls is Brottman’s first foray into fiction. A cultural critic, she is also a psychoanalyst—a fact that isn’t surprising, considering how clearly she captures the psyches of those living with the aftermath of violence. Some stories are deeply personal, almost confessional in tone. Others are written at a distance. One of my favorites takes the form of a therapist’s notes about a murder victim’s best friend, a paranoid ex-Scientologist.

In treatment, B talked constantly about A, becoming alternately depressed and elated. She had delusions of A being a saint or an angel watching over her from heaven, of sending her messages in the form of radio waves, cloud patterns, or words in newspaper headlines. (p74)

In an afterword, Brottman writes of the difficulty she had finding a home for Thirteen Girls. ‘These stories are just too stark and unforthcoming to be satisfying. You are left only with a sense of ugly contingency and meaninglessness in the Big American Empty,’ she quotes one publisher.

Although stark, Thirteen Girls is ultimately a humane collection. By showing the holes left in the lives of those who have known these girls, intimately or in passing, Brottman reclaims them from the sensational spatter of headlines and crime scenes. The violence that they fall prey to is exposed for what it is—routine, random, and unglamorous.

A must-read for anyone who devours true crime and feels guilty about it.



Laura Elizabeth Woollett is a fiction editor at Voiceworks. She likes butterflies, lace, tarot cards and true crime. Find her here.

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