Selected as a Book of the Year 2017 in the Guardian
'Maggie Nelson’s short, singular books feel pretty light in the hand... But in the head and the heart, they seem unfathomably vast, their cleverness and odd beauty lingering on' Observer
In 1969, Jane Mixer, a first-year law student at the University of Michigan, posted a note on a student noticeboard to share a lift back to her hometown of Muskegon for spring break. She never made it: she was brutally murdered, her body found a few miles from campus the following day.
The Red Parts is Maggie Nelson’s singular account of her aunt Jane’s death, and the trial that took place some 35 years afterward. Officially unsolved for decades, the case was reopened in 2004 after a DNA match identified a new suspect, who would soon be arrested and tried. In 2005, Nelson found herself attending the trial, and reflecting with fresh urgency on our relentless obsession with violence, particularly against women.
Resurrecting her interior world during the trial – in all its horror, grief, obsession, recklessness, scepticism and downright confusion – Maggie Nelson has produced a work of profound integrity and, in its subtle indeterminacy, deadly moral precision.
The grisly 1969 Michigan murder of 23-year-old law student Jane Mixer is evocatively re-examined here by her niece, poet Nelson, in light of new evidence in the case. Just as Nelson was completing a book of poetry about her aunt in 2004 (Jane: A Murder) after 35 years of a closed case for which John Collins had been convicted in 1970 new DNA evidence linked a retired, now elderly nurse, Gary Leiterman, to Mixer's murder. Nelson's intimate memoir chronicles how she and her mother, older sister Emily and grandfather managed to harness their emotional pain and "bear witness" at the Ann Arbor trial and conviction of Leiterman. Nelson's search for answers in the murder of Mixer, who hitched a ride from a stranger and was shot twice at close range, strangled, then dragged to a cemetery, dilates into excruciating details about other cases of girls missing and mutilated. Nelson's cathartic narrative encompasses closure of unrelated events in her own life, such as mourning her dead father, dealing with a recent heartache and reconciling with her once-wayward sister. Her narrative is wrenching, though readers come no closer to understanding the character of Mixer or the motive for her murder.