While They Slept: An Inquiry into the Murder of a Family

Kathryn Harrison, Author . Random $25 (290p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6542-4

In the early morning of April 27, 1984, outside Medford, Ore., 18-year-old Billy Gilley bludgeoned his parents, Bill and Linda, and his 11-year-old sister, Becky, to death. He believed his act would allow him and his 16-year-old sister, Jody, to free themselves from an abusive home. Comprising extensive interviews with both Jody, a Georgetown graduate and victims’ rights advocate, and Billy, serving three consecutive life sentences in Oregon, Harrison recounts the trial, where Jody was the prosecution’s star witness, and attempts to understand the Gilleys’ troubled family history. Despite differing accounts from the now estranged siblings on the severity of their parents’ abuse, it’s clear that both parents routinely engaged in verbal and physical cruelty. Billy claimed his murder of Becky was unintentional, but it sealed his fate. Novelist and memoirist Harrison (The Kiss ) attends admirably to detail, and her dissection of the effects of violence on both perpetrators and victims is thorough. But by bookending the account with musings on her incestuous relationship with her own father—already addressed in both her fiction and nonfiction—Harrison dilutes the power of the Gilleys’ story. (June 17)

Reviewed on: 04/21/2008
Release date: 06/01/2008
Genre: Nonfiction
Peanut Press/Palm Reader - 153 pages - 978-1-58836-715-0
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-8129-7630-4
Mass Market Paperbound - 279 pages - 978-0-345-51660-2
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