Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 7:00 P.M., City Light Bookstore, San Francisco
discussing his new book
American Honor Killings: Desire and Rage Among Men
In American Honor Killings, straight and gay guys cross paths, and the result is murder. But what really happened? What role did hatred play? What about bullying and abuse? What were the men involved really like, and what was going on between them when the murder occurred? explores the truth behind squeamish reporting and uninformed political rants of the far right or fringe left. David McConnell, a New York-based novelist, researched cases from small-town Alabama to San Quentin's death row. The book recounts some of the most notorious crimes of our era.
Beginning in 1999 and lasting until last year's conviction of a youth in Queens, New York, the book shows how some murderers think they're cleaning up society. Surprisingly, other killings feel almost preordained, not a matter of the victim's personality or actions so much as a twisted display of a young man's will to compete or dominate. We want to think these stories involve simple sexual conflict, either the killer's internal struggle over his own identity or a fatally miscalculated proposition. They're almost never that simple.
Together the cases form a secret American history of rage and desire. McConnell cuts through cant and political special pleading to turn these cases into enduring literature. In each story, victims, murderers, friends, and relatives come breathtakingly alive. The result is more soulful, more sensitive, more artful than the sort of "true crime" writing the book was modeled on. A wealth of new detail has been woven into old cases, while new cases are plumbed for the first time. The resulting stories play out exactly as they happened, an inexorable sequence of events--grisly, touching, disturbing, sometimes even with moments of levity.
David McConnell is the author of the acclaimed novels The Silver Hearted (a finalist for Lambda and Ferro-Grumley awards) and Firebrat. His short fiction and journalism have appeared widely in magazines and anthologies, including the Literary Review (UK), Granta, and Prospect Magazine (UK). He is the former cochair of the Lambda Literary Foundation, and lives in New York City.
What has been said about David McConnell's work:
"Utilizing an empathetic narrative nonfiction approach, novelist McConnell, co-chair of the Lambda Literary Foundation, casts a humanizing eye upon monstrous deeds... A journalistic tour de force made all the more impressive by jailhouse interviews... McConnell's unquestionable skill as a writer, which gives both literary heft and immediacy to the narratives."
"McConnell convincingly shows how fluid terms like 'gay' and 'straight' can actually be... The author's case studies reflect an intensive investigation into the economic and cultural backgrounds of a wide variety of extremist cultures, research that involved interviews with law enforcement officials, families of victims and the convicted criminals themselves. A shocking look at the subculture of violent crime, not for the fainthearted."
"David McConnell has written with beautiful clarity and power about a very specific kind of murder. Not only is this book the best sort of true-crime writing, but it is also a stunning exploration of the concept of manhood in America. Refusing to judge or to gloss anything over, McConnell turns his impressive skills as a writer to a topic that all of us think about and few dare to discuss."
"David McConnell's American Honor Killings is a masterpiece of reportage: engaging, deeply felt, and brilliantly imaginative. His subjects are heartland murderers driven by hatred of the Other--gays, nonwhites, Jews. But rather than take their crimes and ideologies at face value, McConnell dives into the killers' inner lives and emerges with shockingly intimate portraits of ordinary Americans gone horribly wrong. At turns heartbreaking and terrifying, American Honor Killings has the soul of a detective novel set in the darkest chambers of the human heart. If Truman Capote were alive today, he would die of envy. David McConnell has taken the mantle of great American nonfiction writer."
"American Honor Killings is a spooky, addicting account of twisted sexual drives gone violently awry. McConnell's writing is as profound as Albert Camus's and as memorably chilling as Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. The reader of this astonishing text is dared to set aside squeamishness and look right into the heart of American darkness, where bloody and horrifying acts are the tragic outcomes of lives gone from bad to worse, the murderers themselves victimized by neglect, abuse, and an atmosphere of racist, homophobic hatred, the ugly underbelly of poverty and desperation."