Due to a bit in the news that caught my attention, about one of the members of Charles Manson’s “Family” being considered for parole, I am rereading Helter Skelter. I read it first in 1975, shortly after its publication, and only a few years after the crimes, trial and convictions that the book describes. Written by the prosecuting attorney, Vincent Bugliosi, I remembered it as a good – though terrifying – read.
Well, though I’ve read hundreds of books since 1975, have studied literature and creative writing and have honed my taste in reading material, it is still a good book.
It’s still terrifying, but I’ve gotten braver. In the same time period, in the early ’70s, that I read Helter Skelter, I also read The Exorcist and Jaws. I had made myself afraid of everything, from water to Ouija boards to home invaders. I’d wake my husband to investigate sounds in the night, while I quivered under the covers. My heart would race at an unexpected knock at the door. Nighttime visitors gave me nightmares.
I don’t remember reading about all the details of evidence, interviews and trial that the author lays out in Helter Skelter. It has been a long time; I could have forgotten. More likely, I think, is that I skipped over those parts forty years ago, to get to the action.
I do remember an entirely different perspective when reading that book for the first time: everyone seemed old. The prosecutor was middle-aged. The youngest of the victims was older than I was at that time. Of the “family” who committed the murders or supported the criminals, many were in their teens or early twenties. That was shocking to me in 1975, when I was twenty-three. It seems even more shocking now.
Last night, reading through a particularly haunting chapter, I heard a bang, then a whooshing, scraping sound. Though it made me jump, I got right out of bed to check into what was making the noise. A mouse. Caught in the trap by just one foot, he was racing through the kitchen, dragging the trap behind him. I snatched up the trap, released the mouse outside, washed my hands and went back to bed. No trauma, no pounding heart.
Some things, at least, have changed.