You’ve probably heard of Dirty John. Goffard wrote about him in the LA Times and then made a podcast about it. As someone who loves learning about wild things humans do, I was intrigued. But let’s start with the intro.
Goffard talked in the Introduction about how journalistic writing is distinct from fiction writing. I agree, and not just because I spent time as an intern at a magazine.
“Articles are built to convey information, and they serve their purpose if they make you a little smarter about the world,”XIII
So when Goffard tells us he wrote these as articles and wanted to transform them into stories, I was like swag.
A story is an experience. Like a movie or song or poem, the good ones allow you to live inside other people’s skulls for a little while and touch the wick of their terror and grief and longing.XVI
They’ll be elevated beyond straight facts written on paper, right? Unfortunately, no. They were still very analytical and focused on relaying facts. I didn’t live anyone else’s head at all. Of the 15 stories, roughly half of them made me ask ‘so?’ at the end.
And I didn’t super care about the answer. Some stories were great, and touching, and left me with a sense of reason. But many of them were like okay……. So?
I have decided to only write about the ones that left an impression, any kind of impression, so this list is not comprehensive. For the full experience you’ll have to read the book.
The Irvine Family Drama. Alright, wild story, very interesting and compelling. A rich couple in a really fancy community snap and snap hard. I’d watch the TV show. Unfortunately we got to the end and I said, ok? Why does this matter?
The $40 lawyer dude. Literally a waste of time. I wasn’t cheering for him and certainly didn’t care what he did. And neither did he? I literally have no idea what the point of that story was.
The Syrian mom who moves to Sweden. Great story, touching to see the family dynamic and I really really hope they’re all reunited. I also hope things get better for people in Syria. Made me want to take action to help although the story didn’t provide any inkling of how one could contribute.
The old guy who was in the military and wants to go back because his Dad was a deserter. They were like nah fam, you’re 60. Sad for sure but with no ‘why’ attached. Like, I guess don’t build your whole life on other people or a delusion? I really couldn’t say.
The boarder guy. Spends his nights trying to catch people illegally entering the country. Ok? People want to belong, he’s not sure what side he’s on. But hunting down people and making a point to be like we get old people because they can’t run quickly, means that I don’t like this guy. So I don’t care about him.
Are we sensing a theme?
The dad who’s on death row. An interesting story because it makes you wonder how something like that affects families. But also weird because it seemed like we were downplaying murder? And the son is still angry and guilt tripping the mom. What’s the resolution?
The train riders. Sad for sure because the girl died. But the rest of it I was like ok? That kid had a home and a loving family and would rather spend his time illegally riding trains and being cold? It didn’t seem like he was an outsider or didn’t get along with people, he just got restless after staying at home for too long.
The brother who became a cop because as a kid he came home and found his sister murdered in his room. Totally horrible and also very compelling. I really wanted him to make it as a police officer. And he did but it was so analytical there was no joy in his triumph.
And then, the crown jewel, Dirty John. Such a wild, insane, truly epic story. I care about the mom, I care about her children, heck I even care about the nephew. But the writing was sooooooo straightforward. It was boring. This should have been drama and suspense. The most interesting tidbit I got legit the whole time was the Walking Dead part. (No details so I don’t spoil.) like, we couldn’t have gotten anything more?? I guess that’s what the show is for. I also would have loved some more insight from the mom. Why did she go back to him?