Sunday, August 14, 2011

My Kindle, The Girl Next Door and An American Crime

One of the first things I purchased when I got my first "adult" paycheck (also commonly referred to as a paycheck that doesn't make you weep in soulless misery) was a Kindle. Yes, I was one of those people that turned their nose up at Kindles once but now all that has changed. My Kindle and I have now formed a bond that can only be described as passionate and unrelenting LOVE. Yes so bookstores are going out of business.....okay bad luck there...but Kindles and ereaders aren't getting rid of books you know. In the case of me for instance, Kindles are turning people into better readers and human beings.

I'm not lying either. Remember that one time when I read a book and was all excited about it? It wasn't too long ago when I felt like sitting down and actually reading a book was something that I had trouble doing. Now however, I'm flying through books left and right and loving every minute of it.

A few weeks ago I decided to buck up and purchase Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door. After I had seen the movie fairly soon after beginning my blog, I couldn't ignore all the comments about the book. This was of course during a time when books and I did not get along and so the moment passed. The Kindle however opened up that door to.....the Girl Next Door.

If you've seen The Girl Next Door then you know how horrible, brutal and disturbing it is. You know how it takes the real life torture and murder of Sylvia Likens and morphs it into a somehow even more terrifying story. The book on which the film is adapted from however---is worse. Much, much worse. When I first watched The Girl Next Door, I was filled with this overbearing sense of anger. How on earth could these kids stand there and let that happen? How could they participate in it willingly and gleefully? It just didn't seem to make sense to me and I think a part of me resented the film because of it (Despite however much of those incidences were true in the real case).

The book filled me with even more anger however because it brings you even closer--much, MUCH closer than you would like to be anyways, to the psyche of the participants. In fact, I think there's still a part of me that does not truly like the book and film still because of this. I don't care how many times I've read up on the Milgram experiments--there is NO possible way that none of those children did not feel any sort of conscious or desire to tell someone what was happening. It is this anger and this unbelievability however that makes both The Girl Next Door so terrifying.

An American Crime is also based on the Sylvia Likens case but with a decidedly more accurate depiction of events. It is in no way as disturbing as The Girl Next Door, but due to the repeated actions of the children it still manages to repulse you all the same. I'm not entirely familiar with the exact case of Sylvia Likens, but one thing that is quite obviously different between the two films is the apologetic nature of Gertrude and Ruth respectively. In the Girl Next Door, Ruth is depicted as nothing less than evil. Her mental fragility is touched upon more than once and she never ever seems to talk herself down or to apologize.

An American Crime however has Gertrude suffering from at most a bad cough, and depicts her at many moments breaking down, crying and apologizing to Sylvia stating that it's for her own good. Even the ending shot of Gertrude in prison with a vision of a brittle Sylvia in her cell shows Gertrude on the cusp of saying, "I'm Sorry". Hopefully I'm not alone in saying that this rubs me the wrong way. It felt like the film was trying to turn Gertrude's character into a bit of a sympathetic case---a minuscule one but still that feeling seemed to be there.

The film also does a terrible job of completely tricking you into a false sense of hope. One that if you know the story will anger you and cause mass confusion. This alternate escape route of Sylvia is both bothersome and cruel and seems pointless in the grand scheme of things. Ultimately, while An American Crime stays truer to the actual events and trial of Gertrude, it is Ketchum's Girl Next Door that manages to stick with us longer. It is important to note however, that both films handle that whole implied nature of torture well--that is to say they both somehow do it in a respectful manner. A manner that does not in any way, shape or form, resemble something in the "torture porn" subgenre and for that I suppose I can't hate it.

Still though, I can't help but feel that my life would be somehow brighter had I never discovered The Girl Next Door and An American Crime. Now I'll never be able to erase those feelings of anger and disgust. Bah.


CashBailey said...

Yay! Kindles rule. I've done more reading in the two months I've had mine than I'd done in the past year.

Ketchum's book THE GIRL NEXT DOOR absolutely devastated me. I was a blubbering mess by the end if it.

For that reason I always refused to watch the movie. Not just because I know it couldn't match the impact the book had, but I also heard that they changed the ending into some lame 'boss fight' nonsense, rather than the sudden, brutal and grimly cathartic ending the book had.

Ketchum has written some gold as well as some crap. But nothing he has written matches the power of that book.

Also, Andre, if you like Ketchum he has a crazy, fun book out on the Kindle called LADIES' NIGHT. A mysterious chemical spill in the middle of New York turns every woman in the city into a raving, blood-thirsty psychopath and a small band of men have to fend them off to avoid being, literally, torn limb from limb.

I'm sure there's some subtext in there somewhere...

Andre Dumas said...

Ha! That sounds ridiculous Cash I will have to look into that. And yes, they definitely did turn the end into a bit of a battle there. I was surprised to find that in the book her fall just kind of "accidentally" happens...much more poetic in my opinion.

Congrats on not falling to the power of morbid curiosity regarding not seeing the film. My life will never be the same although I maintain the book is still scarier.

Jenny Krueger said...

Very, very nice! P.s. I "liked" you on facebook! :D

Marvin the Macabre said...

Funny, just last week I bought a copy of The Girl Next Door. Of course, this was a flesh and bone paperback from a local used bookstore, you know, the type that will soon cease to exist because of your gadget fixation (kidding, sort of).

I haven't read it yet, but the movie was definitely one of the most disturbing ever. I'm kind of afraid to read the book, because everyone says it's much worse.

Cash, thanks for the Heads up on Ladie's Night, sounds fun.

deadlydolls said...

I agree so much with you on this! A lot of folks rank An American Crime over Girl Next Door and I think most of it comes from the more prestige names attached to it. And yes, it's more accurate, but SO much less effective than GND. And I LOATHED that false ending! I had read all about the case before I watched the film and so as that's happening, I was so confused and then of course you get the reveal, and I just thought it was manipulative.

I don't think The GIrl NExt Door is a perfect film, but it's so unsettling. The one thing it doesn't capture of the book is the more morally ambiguous nature of David, the narrator. In the book, he's still something of the 'good one,' but there's a lot more going on. The scariest passages are when he's explaining how he's actually curious about what's going on. He never crosses over into the sadistic territory of the other kids, but you get the full sense that there's a part of him that wants to. Now THAT'S disturbing.

Pax Romano said...

Believe it or not, I first became aware of the Sylvia Likens case when John Waters wrote about it in his book, "Shock Value" (not to be confused with that current book of the same name). If memory serves, Waters has a painting of Gertrude Baniszewski (aka Dirty Gertie) featured in the book. A few years ago I saw An American Crime. I was repulsed by it. Like you, I sort of wish I never knew about any of this

Oh, and for the record, I have a NOOK.

Patrick said...

Well, since everybody is doing the true confessions thing about books and Kindles, I'll reveal my allegiance to standard book format. The gadgetry hasn't gotten it's ink-stained talons into me at this point in my life. I don't have a strong stance on the issue, though.

I figure it's like vinyls (that's an ancient word for album, I think it's Sumerian?) going away (mostly) as supposedly more advanced technologies emerge. It's neither good nor bad, each has their merit. Ultimately, it's simply the Tao happening, live and in technicolor.

In this case, I haven't read either of the two books. I watched (sort of) The Girl Next Door but it made me so angry I couldn't watch a lot of it. On one hand, I admire a movie that can provoke such a strong emotional response. On the other hand, it just plain sucks that it's a true story (mostly). And there are a thousand other examples, both in America and elsewhere, of the same repulsive behavior.

I have a serious justice streak. The various injustices of the world really get me riled up. Call me a sentimental if you wish, but innocent children being tortured to death kinda' bothers me. I mean, that shit really happens. It warps my mind. I can handle that stuff in movies all day long, no problem. The real deal fills me with rage, though. Very uncomfortable to look out the window and see a world capable of such atrocities.

There, now that I've gotten that off my chest, I can tell everybody what a fantastic post and series of comments this is. Respect to Andre, CashBailey, Marvin and Emily. Thanks also to Jenny for giving the FaceBook-love to Andre for doing the most excellent work she does here on the Digest.

If I ever get over myself and read either of those two books, I'll use the information here to decide which would be better. I'll probably opt for the one that is closer to actual truth (which seems to be An American Crime, according to the post and comments).

Great post, Andre. Very thought provoking. Respect.

Thanks again to everybody else for sharing their thoughts in the comments.

Have a good one.

CashBailey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Confession Time.

One reason why I broke down and got a Kindle: Edward Lee's The House.

It's 198 pages and the paperback version goes for almost $19. Ebook's price is half that.