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Customer Review

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good book, but a little too much poetic license taken, May 29, 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Twentynine Palms: A True Story of Murder, Marines, and the Mojave (Paperback)
This book is an engrossing story and in many ways, a great portrait of an underportrayed and largely ignored segment of our American population - the people who work in our gas stations and bars, live in the run-down apartment complexes and cheap motels that dot the landscape, and all too often fall victim to violent crimes that are reported by local newspapers in lurid headlines, only to fade in the public's memory mere days afterward.
That being said, the book has some major flaws. My biggest problems with the book are:
- The author's prose gets a little too purply in places, and it almost seems like her imagination starts running away with her story. There's no way she could have known some of the things she talks about as fact, or even have heard those things from the friends of the deceased. In a fiction book based on actual events, that's fine; but this is presented as a nonfiction account, and it is not.
- The author makes some glaring errors, some of which have been pointed out in other reviews. One that comes to mind is when she talks about a local arcade as being a favorite hangout for Mandi and her friends, then later says the arcade didn't open until after Mandi was killed. An editor should have caught this, if not the author herself. In a work of nonfiction, when details like this are incorrect, you wonder what other details in the book are erroneous.
-Throughout the entire book, Stillman blames the Marine Corps for the deaths of Mandi Scott and Rosie Ortega, but in Mandi's case never places any of the blame where I believe it squarely lies - with Mandi's mother, who allowed her 15-year-old daughter to basically run wild. Mandi's mother Debi knew Rosie Ortega associated with Marines she considered dangerous, yet she thought nothing of letting her daughter spend the night at Rosie's apartment and run around with her friends seemingly unchecked. Stillman takes a pitying view towards Debi and her feelings of self-blame, but in my eyes Debi doesn't blame herself enough. There are predatory men everywhere, not just in Twentynine Palms, but that's why children have parents - to set limits and protect children from harm as best they can. In my view, Debi's children didn't have much chance of escaping a violent, marginal life, being raised by a woman who associated with felons, trafficked drugs, and was barely capable of taking care of herself, much less three children. Regardless of how horrible Debi's husbands beat her, she is the one who's responsible for the poor choices she made in life, although Stillman seems to want to blame the Marine Corps and the desert itself for the bad choices made by women in Mandi's family - there's very little support for personal responsibility of any kind in the book, unless Stillman is talking about the murderer's lack of remorse. It's telling that one of Mandi's friends, who wished to go find Mandi the night before the murders, was prevented from doing so by her mother and escaped harm. I don't mean to blame the victims, because Valentine Underwood, as the murderer, is the one to blame for these horrendous crimes, but if both Mandi and Rosie had been a little more careful about who they associated with, they might still be alive today.
As for the unflattering portraits of Victorville and Twentynine Palms, all I can say is that it's not surprising to me town residents would get upset about how their towns are portrayed, because Stillman definitely doesn't pull any punches when it comes to portraying how desolate and depressing the towns can be. Anyone who has ever lived in a small town knows how entrenched and blind to reality the so called "city fathers" and town boosters can be when it comes to their town. I am sure the towns portrayed in the book have their good qualities, and there are times when Stillman gets very condescending about the desert and its residents, as only someone from the outside can do. But I've been in too many towns like Victorville and Twentynine Palms to totally discount her descriptions.
All in all, the book is worth a read, although the way the narrative jumps around is annoying - I think people read stories about crime partially for the suspense element, and in this case you find out Underwood's sentence before the murders even happen. The book definitely could have been edited more competently, with a little less leeway given to Stillman's at times self-indulgent narrative. But the story is compelling and will stay with you long after you put the book down.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 4, 2012 1:56:42 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 4, 2012 1:58:23 PM PDT
The book has so many errors in it, makes one wonder what road she was on to Twentynine Palms.
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