I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai: Book Review

I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai: Book Review

Bodie Kane is a successful podcaster and a part time film professor, but once upon a time, she was a foster kid who got into the elite Granby School due to her foster father’s connections. When she is invited back to Granby to teach an accelerated course on podcasting in 2018, she can’t stop thinking about Thalia Keith, who was murdered in 1995, when Thalia and Bodie were both seniors. The two girls weren’t close friends, but they were roommates the previous school year and got along well for two teenage girls in separate social spheres. While Thalia’s murder is solved in the eyes of the law, the true crime fandom has never accepted the verdict that Omar Evans, the only black staff member at Granby School, was the murderer, even if primitive DNA evidence linked him to the murder. Two of Bodie’s students opt to create their podcast on the mishandling of Thalia’s murder case, and upon seeing the case through the lens of the Gen Z generation, Bodie begins to question everything she has believed about the case through a more modern interpretation of privilege, class, race, and gender roles. And for the first time, she begins to suspect a person she always trusted.

A recent trend in thrillers is novels about cold cases or cases where the wrong person is imprisoned. Many of these are well done--The Book of Cold Cases by Simone St. James and All Good People Here by Ashley Flowers come to mind–balancing the complex world of survivors with a compassion for those who dwell on the morbid to make sense of the complexities of life. I Have Some Questions for You is a bit unusual in that Rebecca Makkai is not a traditional thriller writer, but a literary one. She was a finalist for the Pulitzer with her previous novel, The Great Believers (mini review can be found here). The end result is a smart literary novel with all of the twists of genre fiction.

While the divide between genre fiction and literary fiction is, in many cases, a matter of marketing, as well as gatekeeping from the literary elite, there is no shortage of complexity in Makkai’s latest novel. Makkai explores the #MeToo movement and how women are complicit in maintaining the status quo. She also examines the differences between Gen X (the class of 1995) and Gen Z (the current Granby students). While Bodie is an active player in the investigation, it is really the current Gen Z students of Granby that reopen the case. Mostly she focuses on the normalization of violence against women. In describing how Bodie would discuss the Thalia Keith cases with strangers and attempt to untangle it from all of the other murder cases involving young women, Makkai writes:

Wasn’t that the one where she was stabbed—no. The one where she got in a cab with–different girl. The one where she went to the frat party, the one where he used a stick, the one where he used a hammer, the one where she picked him up from rehab and he–no. The one where he’d been watching her job every day? The one where she made the mistake of telling him her period was late? The one with the uncle? Wait, the other one with the uncle?

Falling in the younger end of Gen X like Bodie (class of ‘96 in my case), I enjoyed the trip back to the mid-nineties in Bodie’s flashback scenes, as well as sharing in Bodie’s bemused admiration of Gen Z’s sensitivity and activism. As a stepmom to Gen Zers, I have respect for this politically minded generation that has survived school shootings and a pandemic and feel they would have been (properly) appalled at the apathy and group think that characterized Gen X. I enjoyed working out the mystery (no, I didn’t correctly guess whodunit) and questioning my own assumptions about crime as I worked it out. On the negative side, Bodie is occasionally exasperating, as far as narrators go. “I didn’t tell them to make their podcasts about Thalia!” she insists after giving her class a list of ideas, including the murder of Thalia Keith. But on the whole, I root for Bodie and for her students, as well as justice for Thalia. 

I think this book will be enjoyed by fans of mysteries, dark academia, true crime, and just well written fiction. Highly recommended.

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