Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Audible Spinstering: American Heiress


On the treadmill yesterday, I finished listening to Jeffrey Toobin's American Heiress: The Wild Saga of Kidnapping, Crimes, and Trial of Patty Hearst. It was long.

Before I start this, I have to say that Patty Hearst's whole ordeal began two years before my parents were even married - eleven years before I was born. So, needless to say, I have no memory of this news story from any sort of primary source. However, I've seen a few things about it over the years - mostly in relation to Stockholm Syndrome - and so I thought it would be interesting.

The book itself mostly focuses on the five years from Hearst's kidnapping to her release from prison, and at times, I felt like I was listening to it in real time. There were a lot of details. I'm sure they were all necessary, but somehow this book manages to dissect occurrences that could have been really exciting in such a way that makes them...a little dry. I do wonder, however, what someone who was alive for these events would think of this telling.

The thing I came away with from this book was a feeling that Patty Hearst is (or was then) adaptive, pragmatic, and possibly conniving. I think she really did join the SLA, but I'm not sure if it was because she really believed in it, just thought it was cool, or actually feared for her own survival. But then, I think perhaps that's the question everyone takes away from this story. Perhaps it's a more nuanced issue than just brainwashing, Stockholm Syndrome, or counter-cultural young rebellion. Who can say, really, except for Patty herself?

In the beginning of the book, Toobin seemed pretty fond of the word "argo," using it at least ten times to describe the way the SLA (and later Patty) expressed themselves. I feel like I notice that more when I'm listening to a book than I normally would if I were reading. Though, the word "sumptuous" does haunt me from my last encounter with the writing of Kevin Kwan.

In any case, I'm not sure if I recommend this book. It's pretty long, and I feel like it would have made a much better documentary with Ken Burns-style scrolling stills.

All right. That's all I have to say about that. Happy Tuesday!

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