Semiotext(e) recently reissued Gary Indiana’s stellar 1997 novel Resentment: A Comedy, the first in a trilogy of novels that explored crime, celebrity, and media frenzy in 1990s America. Resentment takes place against the backdrop of a thinly fictionalized version of the 1994 trial of the Menendez brothers, who were convicted of killing their parents. The trial, which was broadcast on Court TV, took place in Los Angeles just a year before the OJ Simpson trial, and was similarly marked by a media circus. In Bookforum, Sarah Nicole Prickett talks to Indiana about why he was interested in sensationalized murders and the men who perpetrated them. Here’s an excerpt:
Sarah Nicole Prickett: To prove that one version of a chaotic series of events is true, it has to be set in a very precise order, by a prosecutor in court—or by a writer. How did you go about ordering things in Resentment?
Gary Indiana: It’s almost absurdly difficult to talk about the real-life trial of the Menendezes, because there were really two trials going on, with two juries. The two brothers, Erik and Lyle, were allowed to separate their cases and have different defense attorneys, but the defense attorneys worked in concert, and there was one prosecution team. It was bonkers. Virtually anything that the defense argued was relevant to the case was allowed in as evidence, going all the way back into the childhoods of the brothers, into the histories of their parents. How the prosecution got them on the retrial was that the same judge excluded practically everything he had allowed into the first. The first trial was like a Russian novel. It was all about why, not how, they did it. I thought every trial should be like that, although of course it would cost billions to try anyone for murder.
My theory has always been that the brothers were abused by their father, or at least that Erik, the younger brother, was, but that it happened maybe once or twice, not with the regularity that was argued in court. The defense had to make the parents seem monstrous. But my other theory is that most parents are monstrous, most families are monstrous. The trial was about an idea of family that was falling apart, or an idea that the family had never been all that together. I wanted to demonstrate in the structure of the book—and it is a very structured book—this idea of everything falling apart …
SNP: How did you relate to each of your subjects in the trilogy, or stay interested in them?
GI: With Depraved Indifference, I had some grasp of the mentality of Sante and Kenneth Kimes—though no sympathy for them at all—because I’ve known quite a few grifters and con artists. It was a different kettle of fish from the others in the trilogy: Killing wasn’t a big stretch for these two. The interest there was the nonstop confidence game they were running, the mom-and-son incest situation, and the gullibility of their victims. With the first two books, the intimacy of the crimes caught my attention—killing your parents, or your ex-boyfriend, involves a profound fracture of what holds you together as a person. I tried to enter the states of mind of these young men who’d gone over the edge, maybe set off by years of family madness in one instance and many kinds of cumulative disappointment in the other. These struck me as greatly enlarged versions of things I’d experienced myself, so I was able to imagine, moment by moment, how these killings might have gone down. I had a certain sympathy for Eric Menendez, if not for his older brother. Same with Andrew Cunanan, who might have made something of his life if he’d just wised up instead of going on a rampage. It was easy to stay interested. The protagonists were complicated people who could’ve stepped out of a Dostoyevsky novel.
Image of Gary Indiana via Daily Beast.