Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

The Stranger Beside Me intrigues me. I don't read many true crime books, but Ted Bundy and his obvious charm and seemingly normal life makes me want to read this one. I haven't read any Ann Rule books, but from her reviews on Amazon it seems I'm missing out!

This story is so chilling, so frightening, it grips you in the gut. Ann Rule has simply stated the facts. No sensationalism, no gratuitous gore, no psychobabble, just the facts as they happend. And even though the reader might think of Ted Bundy as "old news," and even though he was executed in 1989, this book makes one check to see that the doors and windows are locked.

There are actually two stories here: one describes the gradual disintegration of a seemingly normal, affable, brilliant man into a sexual psychopath so evil, so methodical in his vicious killings, that one wonders if he was at all human. The other story is that of Ann Rule herself, a decent, hard-working, middle-aged mother of four who meets and befriends a nice young man working beside her in a crisis clinic. A man she regards as a younger brother; a man she views as a close and trusted friend. The slow but inexorable realization on Rule's part that this man is in fact an unspeakably violent serial killer is as painful to read as it was for her to experience.

Each victim is described in terms of such respect and such anguish that even a family member can feel that his or her daughter has been given a chance to shine, a chance to be more than a victim, more than a nameless number (8th girl killed, and so forth). The poignancy of these girls' very human preoccupations and lives serves to outline the contrasting horror in even more detail. That is why Rule does not have to defile the victims with intricate detail. The contrast between their young lives and their terrible deaths is enough in itself.

Rule's new Afterward, written in 2000, is fascinating. She has not "recovered and moved on"; there is no real "closure." She has come to accept that the incomprehensible contrast between "Ted the Dear Friend" and "Ted the Monster" will never leave her, and will never be fully explained, no matter how many facts she sifts, no matter how much progress has been made in understanding the sexual psychopath. It is her fate to have known Bundy in all his skins; it is our privilege to read her account of it.
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