THE LONG PRISON JOURNEY OF LESLIE VAN HOUTEN: Life Beyond the Cult

Karlene Faith, Author . Northeastern Univ. $24.95 (208p) ISBN 978-1-55553-481-3

Faith offers an intelligent argument on behalf of Leslie Van Houten, arguably the least culpable and most rehabilitated of the infamous "Manson girls." A Canadian criminology professor, Faith (Simon Fraser Univ.) has visited and corresponded with Van Houten since 1972, when Faith was teaching at the institution where Van Houten was imprisoned. She felt drawn to the three Manson women, whose death sentences were commuted that year, yet who were kept in isolation until the late 1970s. Faith acknowledges the particular revulsion directed toward the associates of Manson, but asserts that these women were "victims of a tortured boy who became a murderous, controlling man... with a penchant for seducing and exploiting trusting, vulnerable young women." Faith crisply summarizes Van Houten's descent from a promising middle-class young woman into a drug- and sex-crazed member of Manson's Family; her peripheral, panicked involvement in the murder of Rosemary LaBianca on the second night of Manson-ordered mayhem in August 1969 is also detailed. Faith notes that as Van Houten began to withdraw her loyalty to Manson, she became severely anorexic. In her narrative, Faith evokes the vanished world of hippie idealism that became twisted into Manson's poisonous ideology, and writes persuasively about collisions between gender, countercultural extremes and the criminal justice system. However, her reliance on psychological explanations of the Family's rituals and crimes, and her clear editorial eagerness to absolve the Manson women, may leave some readers unmoved by her argument that it is time for Van Houten to be paroled. (June 25)

Forecast:Faith's book will appeal to readers of sociology, criminal justice and women's studies. Since it is a serious look at a former member of the Manson Family, the publisher is pitching NPR for radio coverage and has announced an aggressive first printing of 5,000 copies.

Reviewed on: 05/28/2001
Release date: 00/00/0000
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