Wednesday, September 30, 2009

True Crime: Salt of the Earth

Salt of the Earth (Jack Olsen, St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 1996)
For all those who have given up hope of ever finding a true crime book that is a literate read, this book exists solely for the purpose of restoring one’s faith in both the English language and in the genre of true crime nonfiction as a whole. Salt of the Earth is an engrossing, intriguing read, owing more to John Steinbeck than to the normal supermarket quickie, but then the crime — more sad than exceptional — is less the point of this book than how it affects the lives of those involved. Jack Olsen’s ability to make the mundane sound exceptional converts what is basically the simple story of the lives of white trash on the rise into a representation of all that is the American Dream, a dream that eventually gets senselessly ripped apart by a brutal murder committed by Michael Kay Green, a wife-beating, steroid-abusing, body-building loser.
Jack Olsen (1925-2002) begins the story in 1940’s Fontana, California, birthplace of the Hell’s Angels, a good generation before the deadly event itself. Starting with a detailed, colorful narration of the family histories of both the Mayzsak and Gere clans, he goes on to recount the lives of their offspring, Elaine and Joe who married in 1967 and whose lives fall apart when their first child Brenda is murdered at 12 in 1985.
Joe, who was probably out getting laid instead of doing an extra shift selling cars at work as he had told his wife he had to (his coworkers deferring that "Gentlemen don’t talk about such things" when asked by the author), spiraled downwards from the day of her disappearance, first drowning his guilt and sorrow in alcohol before finally blowing his brains out in front of his wife and two surviving sons.
As for the murderer, due to a lack of evidence and no body, Green was initially sent to jail for a variety of rapes he was tied to. Long after Joe joined his beloved daughter and just before the weightlifter was set to be released, Green was finally tried and found guilty for the crime after Brenda’s body was accidentally discovered near an area he used to go jogging.

Images: Book cover (top) & the author (below).

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