Book: Thirteen Girls
Author: Mikita Brottman
Type of Book: Fiction, themed short story collection
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Because it made me feel a bit less odd about my own obsessions.
Availability: Published by Nine Banded Books in 2012, you can get a copy here:
You can also buy the book directly from Nine Banded Books.
Comments: This book is deceptively simple: Brottman wrote short stories about the deaths of thirteen young women, some killed by famous serial killers, some picked off like ducks in a row, casual victims in an ugly world. While this is a work of fiction, the stories in this collection are based on real women and real crimes. The stories are told from varied perspectives: police report, perp interview, anguished mother, dieting co-worker, angry boyfriend, sole survivor. There was a game-like element for me as I read, wondering if I could guess who the girl was and who killed her before I reached the end of the story. Given my prior interest in serial murderers as well as just murderers in general, it was surprising I only really knew five, though several more rang some bells that didn’t ring clearly until I got to the end of the book. One I missed was a victim of serial killer Bill Suff. I should have known that one. I became obsessed with trying to track down the whole text of a cookbook Suff wrote, all the more interesting because he evidently ate body parts from a few of his victims, going so far as to use a breast from a prostitute he killed in his “famous” chili recipe. I’m not sure why I wanted a cookbook written by a serial killer cannibal – the late 90s was a weird time in my life (but I still sort of would like to have a copy…).
Shortly, I am going to discuss the two stories I liked best, but before I do, I want to discuss the overall nature of this book. I enjoyed reading it but, at the end, I found myself feeling like the collection hit a discordant note in some of the stories. I felt empty after I read them and felt that Brottman had missed the point somehow, that the stories were flawed because I felt flat after reading them, yet felt so engaged with some of the others. The reason I felt that way was because I was the one who had missed the point.
If some of these stories don’t evoke emotion, it’s because they aren’t supposed to because Brottman is showing us the different windows through which we can observe brutality. While I appreciate this collection for attempting to give the back or parallel stories associated with these murders, the casual memory of death Brottman showed in several of these stories is what makes this collection mean something more than standing as a mawkish look at dead young women. It’s a sad reality that not all deaths are memorable and that all murders do not change those who knew, however fleetingly, the person who was killed. The hell of it is, in terms of media and social awareness of victims, it can often seem like particular victims do not matter at all. Sometimes the lack of interest plays out in the form of a phenomenon called “Missing White Woman” syndrome – black female abductees and murder victims don’t get the media time afforded to white female abductees and murder victims. But on a more personal level, sometimes a murder means little to those left behind. There is a sentimental viewpoint in some of these stories, but these stories are anything but sentimental.