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PR Isfeld

Reading: "I Have Some Questions For You"
Reading: “I Have Some Questions For You”

“Happiness is an allegory, unhappiness a story.”

–Leo Tolstoy

Podcasts seem to have taken over a large part of the storytelling landscape. I Have Some Questions For You by Rebecca Makkai, explores themes such as the slipperiness of truth and the nature of memory as it critiques our collective obsession with true crime podcasts like “Serial.” This suspenseful novel has it all: a New Hampshire boarding school in winter, the long-ago murder of a beautiful student, hints of dark academia, and a narrator who may or may not be entirely reliable, whether or not she knows it.

Makkai walks a tightrope in this murder mystery set in an upper-crust boarding school, using her dead-girl obsessed podcasters to criticize the genre for exploiting the misfortunes of real people for entertainment, treating victims as objects, and focussing on sensationalistic details rather than structural or systemic issues. She succeeds in satirizing her true crime junkies even as she embroils the reader in a great whodunnit reminiscent of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.

Bodie Kane, the main character, co-hosts “Starlet Fever,” a podcast which examines and sensationalizes the lives of women on film. Although she felt like an outsider in high school, she has agreed to return to Granby campus to teach a short course on podcasting. The trip brings back memories of her goth days as a theatre nerd, working alongside charismatic teacher Dennis Bloch, and her envy of what she saw as the ease of the others around her. When one of her new students expresses an interest in examining the 1995 death of Bodie’s former roommate, and the subsequent questionable conviction of a Black coach, the die is cast.

Bodie is convinced that Omar didn’t do it, and she starts to obsess over the case. Her emotional situation grows more complicated when her ex-partner Jerome is accused of sexual and emotional exploitation by a former girlfriend, causing her to question whether the narratives of #MeToo should receive the same scrutiny as true crime stories. Although Jerome is not a terribly likeable figure, it’s hard not to see the similarities between crime junkies and Twitter mobs, as both of them feed on their fascination with monsters and the high of righteousness.

The fluctuations of memory are a common plot staple for crime writers, but Makkai focusses on the psychology behind them. The memories in I Have Some Questions For You come at Bodie like an attack from the past, highlighting the pervasiveness of violence, especially against women, and the schadenfreude with which such stories are received. She asks important questions about whether or not true crime can be handled in ethical ways and still remain powerful.

Like the real true crime podcasts it draws on, I Have Some Questions For You does not wrap up the central story as neatly as many would like. As  she pulls us through the story, Makkai puts us in the same shoes as Brodie, piecing together the various fragments of narrative, waiting to be given the verdict. In the end, we think we know whodunnit, but we don’t get a neat confession or a decision from on high. Instead, we’re left second-guessing ourselves, as we probably should be.