The Collected Writings of Amanda Knox
A Review of the Short Story That's Become Evidence in a MurderCase
Twenty-year-old University of Washington creative-writing student Amanda Knox posted a short story called "Baby Brother" on her MySpace blog last December to a resounding lack of interest from the world at large. It got a grand total of one comment. A year later, the short story has achieved global notoriety, having been quoted and/or mentioned by the Associated Press, MSNBC, the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Irish Examiner, all the London newspapers and tabloids, newspapers in Italy, etc. Never in American history has a short story gotten so much attention, although the attention has nothing to do with literary greatness.
Knox (in Italy for a study-abroad program) and two men are being held by Italian authorities in connection with the rape and murder of a 21-year-old British foreign-exchange student, Meredith Kercher, who lived in Knox's apartment. Kercher was found dead there on the morning of November 2, half-clothed, covered with signs of struggle, having bled to death from a gash in her neck.
Unlike Knox's constantly changing story about whether she was home the night of the murder—first it was widely reported that Knox said she wasn't in the apartment during the murder, then it was widely reported that Knox admitted to being in the apartment and covering her ears while Kercher screamed, then it was widely reported that Knox had reverted to her previous statement that she hadn't been in the apartment at all the night of the murder, then (on Monday of this week) it was widely reported that authorities had discovered a tape of Knox entering the apartment on the night of the murder on closed-circuit television—the plot of "Baby Brother" remains fixed, its details unchanged since the day she wrote it.
Last week, Knox's MySpace page was set to private, though not before The Stranger—and other news organizations—had printed out the contents of Knox's blog. On November 7, London's Daily Mail wrote that the writing on Knox's blog gave "worrying insight into the bizarre life which has led the 20-year-old brunette to an Italian police cell," and, with specific reference to "Baby Brother," that "the discovery of the prose, which will now be examined by detectives, casts a new light on the woman." But the ostensible "insight" provided by this ostensible "new light" went unarticulated. You were just supposed to infer it, since "Baby Brother" is built around an older brother (Edgar) confronting his younger brother (Kyle) for drugging and raping a girl.
The only new light that "Baby Brother" casts on the murder suspect is that she wasn't a very good short-story writer. She emphasizes characters' furrowed brows and facial creases and is overly fond of the word "sand" ("His husky voice sounded like it was crawling out of a bucket of sand"; "His skin reminded him of sand, and how sand was all stretched and washed out on a cold beach"; a character named Sandra has "sandy blond hair"). When Edgar is about to confront Kyle, we get this rather overbaked sentence: "His mouth was drawn tight and creased at the edges, and for a second Edgar thought he was going to say something, but he felt the tightness of his brow ease and he swallowed a large, slippery gulp of the aching, burning rage that pulsated in his forehead, chest, and throat." These are unmistakably the contorted metaphors and maudlin exaggerations concocted by someone who doesn't know what she's talking about, who's making it up whole cloth.
The story's biggest weakness from a literary standpoint is that none of it is believable. Kyle, the story's rapist, is a cheeseball bad guy who first tells his brother, "A thing you have to know about chicks is that they don't know what they want," and then punches Edgar in the face. Anyone who's ever read a handful of college-level creative-writing assignments knows that date rape is a cliché of the genre, as is someone-punching-someone-else-in-the-face. These are the sorts of conflicts that creative-writing students cook up because they're taught that the first thing they need to do is cook up conflict. After Edgar gets punched by his brother (described as feeling "like someone was jabbing a razor into the left side of his face," which isn't what getting punched in the face feels like), Edgar is on the floor bleeding profusely. "He spit into the blossoming smudge beside his head." That's pretty evocative, that "blossoming smudge."
Still, the most evocative writing related to the Knox case was a description in the Seattle P-I on November 11 of the prison where Knox is currently staying. It's "nestled between olive groves and pines in the hills outside Perugia." According to the P-I, "Behind bars, Knox has support services available to her, including psychologists, nuns, and the prison chaplain, a Catholic priest. She is said to be spending most of her time writing."