Family Values

In Contempt

by Christopher A. Darden
ReganBooks/HarperCollins, 387 pp., $26.00

The Search for Justice: A Defense Attorney’s Brief on the O.J. Simpson Case

by Robert L. Shapiro
Warner Books, 363 pp., $24.95

I Want to Tell You

by O.J. Simpson
Little, Brown, 208 pp., $17.95

Lyle and Erik Menendez, two furtive suburban churls, gunned down their parents in August 1989, almost seven years ago. The brothers were not arrested until six months after the murders; during the gap they had quite a good time spending the impressive bank account of their father, Jose Menendez, a corporate executive, self-made, forty-five years old when he and his wife, Kitty, forty-seven years old were killed. Jose and Kitty, the parents, Lyle and Erik, the sons. One needs a bit of caution to keep these now familiar couplings from tripping off the tongue as if they were family skits in the old vaudeville days. The brothers’ incarceration came about when recordings of a detailed confession made to a psychiatrist were at last turned over to the police. They were brought to trial, each with his own jury, neither of which could agree on a verdict, and so they went back to prison to await a retrial and to find themselves displaced in public interest by the indictment of the former football star O.J. Simpson for the murder by stabbing of his ex-wife and a hapless friend who happened to be at the scene. In any case, the Menendez brothers and O.J. Simpson, by way of the cameras in the courtroom during the trials, became international double-homicide celebrities.

More is known about the accused and the victims in these trials than about many of the public figures whose actions and opinions will have an effect upon the national life. Politicians, facing their shackling positions, past and present, will have to wait for election night to command the dramatic preeminence of the final returns in the trials of L&E and O.J. This raging intimacy and emotional attentiveness came about from the extraordinary span of the television coverage. The fanatical hours were not only set aside on Court TV and CNN, specialized channels, but also on the regular stations. The purest measure of demand and urgency came when the vast audience, resting its feet or nodding off a bit in front of the long-established afternoon soap operas, was interrupted for the California judicial theater, an offering as slow as the plot clips on As the World Turns are quick and efficient.

Millions all over the world,” a favorite statistic, seemed to wait for the arrival of O.J. Simpson’s mise-en-scène: the “alleged” himself, the lawyers in a circle around the front table, spectators and family in the rows behind, heads and hats of interest, and above them Judge Lance Ito with black hair, black beard, and black robe, all bringing to mind a drawing by Daumier. Long ago it was Extra, Extra, Read All About It!, the lad in his woolen cap, the clang of printing presses, the folded newspapers flipping by—archival memories of a primitive way to announce the evil folks will do for love, hatred, or money. In the old sob story, as in classical tragedy, “situational murder,” in the family, was most gripping …

This article is available to subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Premium Subscription — $94.95

Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.