You probably already know that I (like so many other people) loved Rebecca Makkai’s book The Great Believers, and then, more recently, that I discovered and enjoyed her two previous novels. Also, she’s one of those writers who just has a wonderful, enjoyable presence on social media … so all of this added up me eagerly awaiting her new release, I Have Some Questions For You.
Although it’s a very different type of novel, Questions reminded me in some ways of another book I loved last year, John Darnielle’s Devil House, in that both novels dive into our cultural fascination with true crime and unsolved murders, in ways that fully expose how problematic that fascination is.
In this novel, the unsolved murder is one fairly close to the narrator, Bodie Kane, who returns at midlife to teach a two-week course at the boarding school where her roommate was murdered when they were teenagers. Thalia Keith’s death is not considered an “unsolved mystery” — a man has been in jail for over two decades for the crime. But Bodie, who now has a career as a podcaster, becomes increasingly suspicious that the wrong man is incarcerated for the crime. When her students in the podcasting course want to do a true-crime style podcast about Thalia’s murder, she encourages them, finding herself and once intrigued and slightly guilty about her fascination with the case.
This is so much more than a mystery novel (though it does have a lot of the beats of good mystery too, and it doesn’t leave you hanging about whodunnit, which is a nice bit of closure you don’t always get in a literary-type mystery/thriller). It’s a deep dive into the ambiguity of Bodie’s feelings about her own past, the murdered girl, the various suspects, and her own complicity in the often-ghoulish nature of true crime stories. Bodie is accused of hypocrisy when she repeats the slogan “believe women,” as most of us 21st century feminists would do, yet finds herself skeptical when a woman accuses Bodie’s ex-husband of inappropriate behavior. It’s a gray area, as is almost everything in this novel — despite the stark black-and-white of a murdered girl and an unjustly accused man (who are, respectively, white and Black, so of course racism is a theme here too, as it so often is in these crime stories). I found this an absolutely absorbing, thoughtful, fascinating story about the Pandora’s box that gets opened when anyone reopens a cold case.