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The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial



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Brief Description:

Late in 2004, Maggie Nelson was looking forward to the publication of her book Jane: A Murder, a narrative in verse about the life and death of her aunt, who had been murdered thirty-five years before. The case remained unsolved, but Jane was assumed to have been the victim of an infamous serial killer in Michigan in 1969.

Then, one November afternoon, Nelson received a call from her mother, who announced that the case had been reopened; a new suspect would be arrested and tried on the basis of a DNA match. Over the months that followed, Nelson found herself attending the trial with her mother and reflecting anew on the aura of dread and fear that hung over her family and childhood–an aura that derived not only from the terrible facts of her aunt’s murder but also from her own complicated journey through sisterhood, daughterhood, and girlhood.

The Red Parts is a memoir, an account of a trial, and a provocative essay that interrogates the American obsession with violence and missing white women, and that scrupulously explores the nature of grief, justice, and empathy.

Review Quotes:

“Alternating between a narrative of the trial and a rambling exploration of her own life, Nelson examines the many stereotypes and clichés of murder, making it seem that no subject could possibly be more embedded in the American consciousness. . . . Nelson is refreshingly self-critical–of herself and her writing project.”The New York Times Book Review

“It’s Nelson’s articulation of her many selves–the poet who writes prose; the memoirist who considers the truth specious; the essayist whose books amount to a kind of fairy tale, in which the protagonist goes from darkness to light, and then falls in love with a singular knight–that makes her readers feel hopeful.”–Hilton Als, The New Yorker

“Her quivering, precise ethical sensitivity is everywhere at work, worrying, probing, discerning. . . . Nelson’s resistance to the easy answer, her willingness to reach a kind of conclusion and then to break it, to probe further and further, to ask about her own complex and not entirely noble intentions instead of facilely condemning others, make The Red Parts an uneasy masterpiece.”–

The Red Parts is meandering and diaristic, plunging us into a story as it happens. We sit beside Nelson and share her bewilderment, and by the end of the book we are forced to recognize that this is one of the greatest gifts an author can provide us: the chance to admit that we do not know what we think.”–

“Graywolf Press has done a great service to readers by re-publishing The Red Parts in 2016. . . . In a cultural moment in which true crime narrative–Serial, Making a Murderer, The Jynx, etc.–has reached an especially hypnotizing level, Nelson’s book powerfully reminds us of the wrecked lives that violence leaves in its wake.” Electric Literature

“Every bit as gripping as a true-crime book, but infinitely more complex and rewarding.”Vulture

“[Maggie Nelson’s The Red Parts is] an enthralling personal story-slash-true-crime-book that just happens to be written by one of the most thoughtful writers of our time.”Esquire

Review Citations:
  • Shelf Awareness 04/19/2016 (EAN 9781555977368, Paperback)
  • Wilson Nonfiction Catalog 01/25/2019 (EAN 9781555977368, Paperback)
  • Publishers Weekly 01/15/2007 pg. 44 (EAN 9781416532033, Hardcover)
  • Kirkus Reviews 02/01/2007 pg. 114 (EAN 9781416532033, Hardcover)
  • Booklist 02/15/2007 pg. 19 (EAN 9781416532033, Hardcover)
  • New York Times 04/01/2007 pg. 21 (EAN 9781416532033, Hardcover)


  • Contributor Bio
  • Maggie Nelson is a poet, a critic, and the author of several nonfiction books, including The Argonauts, The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning, Bluets, and Jane: A Murder. She teaches in the School of Critical Studies at CalArts and lives in Los Angeles, California.
















Paperback, Audio, Hardcover