It took me ten days to listen to the interview between Last Podcast on the Left, Harold Schechter, and Eric Powell discussing their new graphic novel project because I kept getting distracted by reading Schechter’s work. I thought it would make more sense to combine the reviews.
I spend more time than is probably recommended listening to Last Podcast on the Left. Which is why it surprised me that it took me days to get through an interview that’s just under an hour long. Infected with Marcus Parks’ enthusiasm for Schechter’s work, I wanted to dive in and do some of my own reading. Wow, the hype is definitely well-earned. The discussion of mental health in both works seem somewhat progressive for their time, especially given the subject matter. The structure of both novels also kept me engaged and is worth studying from a story-telling perspective.
Deviant: The Shocking True Story of Ed Gein, the Original “Psycho” by Harold Schechter (1985)
Listened to the audiobook
Trigger warning: Necrophilia, murder, mentions of Nazis, human bodies as an art medium, necrophilia
Ed Gein is the famed American killer known for making clothing and furniture out of human skin, targeting women who resembled his abusive mother. Harold Schechter not only goes through the details of the crimes, but gives a lot of context to the town and biographical details of the victims.
I mentioned necrophilia twice in the trigger warnings because it isn’t flinched away from while discussing other deviants who had a fascination with dead bodies.
The thing that stuck out about me this book was the reluctance to pathologize Ed Gein with any specific mental illness, especially given the massive misunderstanding of schizophrenia that persists since the 1950’s. There is some speculation, but it comes with an empathy for people afflicted with the mental illness in a way that I didn’t expect from a book published in the 80’s.
Ultimately, what Schechter here tells a story of a town at war with its perceptions after a heinous series of crimes. I found it interesting how he humanized the town of Plainfield. The fact that Gein’s crimes had been prosecuted before the overflow of serial killer activity in America also plays a role.
With this recounting of the crimes and characterization of everyone involved, it’s so easy to see how Gein’s story made a foothold in American pop culture by being the inspiration behind Hitchcock’s Psycho.
PSYCHO USA: Famous American Killers You Never Heard Of by Harold Schechter (2012)
Listened to the audiobook
Trigger warning: Murder, statutory rape, sexual assault, gaslighting, child abuse, violence, racism
If you’re tired of hearing about heavy hitter serial killers like Jeffrey Dalmer, H.H. Holmes, Aileen Wuornos, and others, this book has more American killer content than you could have ever hoped to ask for.
The organization of this book is something to behold. It’s impressive to put together a book like this chronologically rather than according to the nature of the crimes. Within the chapters, it jumps around a bit historically within each section. I hesitated with how to rate this book, since many of the references to other
Knowing that Schechter himself went through a divorce (from the interview that took me a week and a half to listen), it’s interesting to me that a subtle takeaway from all these tales is this: divorce is a net positive for society. From femme fatales to husbands who could’ve gone without wives, so much violence could have been avoided if people had a way out. The story that stuck with me most was that of Edward H. Rulloff, the namesake of a bar in Ithaca, NY, and it completely exemplifies how giving either Edward or Harriet a way out might have prevented some violence.
Overall, interesting in its history, but also captivating in its meta-commentary on what makes some killers rise to star status within the literature of true crime.