“I would stay up all night reading on Wikipedia, bingeing documentaries, reading message boards,” says Monroe, 36. “And that didn’t happen to me with celebrity stories or politics stories or other things that I like to read — they didn’t have that feeling of compulsion.”
Monroe, a contributing writer for The Atlantic who lives in Marfa, Texas, started working on her book as a way to explore her hunger for true crime. Then she realized that four women whose stories she had been following, some for years, shared that same interest.
“Savage Appetites” examines four main subjects: Frances Glessner Lee, who is known for her 1940s and ’50s “nutshell studies,” miniature dioramas of crime scenes that were used to teach forensics; Alisa Statman, who ingratiated herself with Sharon Tate’s surviving family in the years after the Manson murders; Lorri Davis, who married and helped free a man who was on death row for the 1993 murders of three boys in West Memphis, Ark.; and Lindsay Souvannarath, who is serving a life sentence in a Canadian prison for plotting a mass murder in 2015 with a boyfriend she met online.
As she tells these four women’s stories, Monroe weaves in her own brushes with true crime: the way the murder of a teenage girl in Monroe’s hometown of Richmond affected her, for example, and the paranoia she felt while attending Souvannarath’s sentencing in 2018.
Monroe, who will discuss “Savage Appetites” at Solid State Books on Monday, knows that true crime is entertaining, but treating it purely as entertainment often leaves out part of the story. And the genre’s common narrative of a white, female victim ignores those who are actually the most at risk of being victimized.
“Sometimes it seems ridiculous to call true crime ‘true’ with all the distortions,” she says.
Still, Monroe doesn’t make a case for giving up true crime.
“Just like any genre, it fulfills these deep needs that we have — to learn about the full spectrum of human experience, and also to know about these really traumatic parts of life,” she says.
Instead, she recommends being a critical consumer, and asking tough questions: Is this retelling glorifying a killer? Are some victims seen as more worthy of respect than others? Are we feeding off their pain?
“There’s something risky in using these stories to zone out or numb ourselves in some way,” Monroe says. “Maybe that’s the answer — to not allow ourselves to go into that space of pure sensation, but to force us to remain conscious and aware of what we are consuming and why.”
Solid State Books, 600 H St. NE; Mon., 7 p.m., free.