If you only read one novel about a 19th century Scottish triple-homicide…

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The fact that His Bloody Project is (mostly) fictional is either the most or least important thing you could know about it, depending on how much you care.

Framed as a memoir written by an accused murderer, coupled with court transcripts and another associated documents related to the crime, HBPโ€”down to its faux-bloody-fingerprinted coverโ€”wants very badly to sell itself as a true-crime adventure, an In Cold Blood for fans of 1800s homicides committed in remote and sparsely populated Scottish enclaves. That the book is in fact a epistolary novel marauding as truth makes it all the more ambitious and, like its main character, all the more tricky to pin down.

Said main character is Roddy Macrae, who opens his lawyer-prescribed written statement, i.e. the book, with a fairly direct confession:

“My life has been short and of little consequences, and I have no wish to absolve myself of responsibility for the deeds which I have lately committed. [My advocate] has instructed me to set out, with as much clarity as possible, the circumstances surrounding the murder of Lachlan Mackenzie and the others, and this I will do to the best of my ability….I shall begin by saying that I carried out these acts with the sole purpose of delivering my father from the tribulations he has lately suffered.”

And so with this rather dispassionate Inigo Montoya-ing, Roddy establishes the conclusion of a situation whose origin the reader does not yet know, and will spend the rest of the book finding out. Without spoiling anything, suffice it to say that Roddy’s father is a stern and downtrodden farmer, and Lachlan Mackenzieโ€”town police officer, of sortsโ€”is a douche of the most fable-ready order: petty, power-hungry, and loathsome from jump. But Roddy is no angel, and stacking his version of events up against the version outlined by other parties is one of the primary exercises in reading this slim and quirky book.

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3 thrillers to distract you from all of the things

It’s a good time to read a gripping book: The weather is getting colder, the days are getting shorter, and it’ll be hard to maintain a decent library when climate change puts us all underwater. So here are a few page-turners that got me through the past week.

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Hillbilly Elegy is a humblebrag of a memoir

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Memories of an Appalachian adolescence meshed with analysis of the disaffected white working class, J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy has been making the rounds as a primer on the sentiments that have given rise to Donald Trump. It certainly has all the right ingredients: Vance is a white man who grew up poor in Ohio with family roots in Kentucky. His mother struggled with addiction and had a string of bad boyfriends and husbands. Vance was mostly raised by his grandparents, Mamaw and Papaw; his sister; and a cast of eccentric aunts and uncles.

Vance’s childhood was chaotic at best, and he might have been headed down the same path as so many of his peers (unemployment, drugs) were it not for Mamaw’s tough love and his spontaneous decision to join the Marines after high school. After the Marines came college, then Yale Law. Then a year clerking, a year lawyer-ing, a year in operations, and thenโ€”oh the end. Then this book. Because Vance, now a Silicon Valley investor and contributor to The National Review, is only 31.

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5 books, reviewed real quick

Summer 2016 went by far too fast, distracted as we were byย Donald Trump and the return of the bare midriff. But even though my ST updates this year have been lackluster at bestโ€”it’s my 2017 resolution, I swearโ€”Iย did actually manage to finish some books this summer. So before the frost fully sets in, here are a few thingsย I done read recently.

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Timehopping with Homegoing

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As cars and RVs line up to pay the $25 entry fee to Arches National Park, I find myself tempted to assume that what’s ahead will be overwrought. Commercialized. Banal. The minimum-effort visitor to Arches (i.e. any rando with a car) can take an 18-mile drive around the park, at the entrance of which sits a quintessential visitor centerโ€”part education, part kitsch. I haven’t seen Delicate Arch yet (Arches’ most iconic landmark) and yet I have: on keychains, t-shirts, laminated posters, and lightersโ€”and painted in great detail on a canvas in my Moab, Utah hotel room.

Once inside, a winding road takes me up a rock cliff, which I notice absently, and then with something bordering on panic. All the relevant alarms start to sound in my brain: YOU ARE DRIVING ON A CLIFF! THE SIDE OF THE CLIFF IS RIGHT THERE! And while I know I’m supposed to be feeling some sort of How Stella Got Her Groove Back exhilarationโ€”I’m here! On my road trip! Seeing natural beauty!โ€”mostly I am terrified. I’ve had a driver’s license for 17 years, but I’ve also seen Final Destination a bunch of times. 

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