I don’t read enough nonfiction, and when I do, it’s usually a first-person memoir. Not a lot of footnotes, not a lot of history — all big ideas & institutions, thorny questions & issues narrowed to the snails-eye view of a single person. I need to grow out of this reading habit, I know. Novelist Alia Trabucco Zerán guided me down a nonfiction path that I don’t often walk.
Her When Women Kill: Four Crimes Retold offers readers like me a powerful & accessible blend of research & reckoning, of storytelling & reporting. Focusing on Chile in the 20th century, Zerán revisits four notorious crimes, notorious not only for the shocking brutality of the murders but also for the way that the brutality challenged contemporary notions of femininity, of wifehood, of sanity, of hysteria.
Throughout each account, Zerán interrupts her accounts for detailed research notes–a look at how the research happened, how librarians react to her curiosity, how she herself unveils her own understandings of her country & herself.
The recurring threads (hysteria as a defense, the misogyny standardized within Chilean law, the deployment of psychology as a way of understanding the crime & shaping the punishment) got me thinking anew about how gendered my lens is personally, as a reader, as a teacher, as a father.
It’s a curious book to be excited about, to recommend, but it’s one that is so varied in its style & focus that if you don’t appreciate, say, the Law & Order aspects of it, you just need to hold on for a few pages before Zerán shifts to a different (equally compelling) writerly lens.