Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Trailer Park Tuesday: American Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin

Welcome to Trailer Park Tuesday, a showcase of new book trailers and, in a few cases, previews of book-related movies.

In the spring of 1974, I was preoccupied with three things: my chocolate Labrador Retriever, Nancy Drew mysteries, and this photo:

As an 11-year-old boy, I tracked the Patty Hearst kidnapping case like a third-rate Encyclopedia Brown. I didn’t have much to go on—the coverage in TIME magazine (the only national news source my father subscribed to) and Walter Cronkite’s reports on the evening news—but I was obsessed with the pale slim girl toting a machine gun in a bank lobby. Who was this girl who’d been snatched from her Berkley apartment at gunpoint one night by a gang calling themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army? Was she a victim or a criminal? Was she a spoiled rich girl or a radical revolutionary? Did she just “go along to get along” with the SLA or was she a bad person, too? Where were they hiding out? And, most importantly, where was Symbia and why did they want to liberate it? Bear in mind, at the time there was no internet, no 24-hour news cycle, no phones I could carry in my pocket to beep an alert that six members of the SLA had died in a shootout with police on May 17, 1974 and that Patty Hearst was still missing. No one was there to Tweet the news that the heiress cum gun moll was arrested fifteen months later in San Francisco and while being booked gave her occupation as “Urban Guerrilla.” No, all I had were TIME and Uncle Walter to tell me what was going on out there in California. With my trusty dog at my side, and a finger stuck in the pages of The Clue of the Tapping Heels to mark my place, I watched, dry-mouthed, the footage of the midday gun battle carried live on TV. Patty Hearst was my circus, my 10-part television mini-series, and my first real introduction to the complicated and duplicitous lives of adults. That’s why when I first heard about Jeffrey Toobin’s new book American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst, I knew it would be going right to the top of my always-growing towering To-Be-Read pile (aka Mount NeveRest). The two video clips highlighted here today indicate that Toobin is just as fascinated by the Patty Hearst story as I was as a kid. You can hear the enthusiasm in his voice as he talks about how he researched the case (of which he admits he knew very little before he started). In the second clip, he tells a fascinating story about how Patty had a chance to escape her captors, but didn’t. Unfortunately, as he writes in an author’s note at the back of the book, Patty Hearst refused to talk to him for the book so we don’t have her perspective on her actions back in the 1970s; but Toobin was able to obtain 150 boxes of materials from SLA member Bill Harris which provided some never-before-seen insight into those tense, bloody months—a time, Toobin says, “when the country was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.” American Heiress opens with a thrilling prologue in which three people burst through Patty Hearst’s front door with guns and, from there, it looks like it will never let up in intensity. At last, maybe I can get some answers to this case which has haunted me since junior high school.

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