1 November 2016

O.J. Simpson: If I Did It

There is so much going on in this book I worry about how long this review will be. I wanted to read it solely because Chuck Klosterman wrote that it was, "deeply, vastly, hysterically underrated," and states that there is no comparable text. I then spent a full year trolling bookstores for it and eventually ordered it from Amazon for a price I'm embarrassed to have on record. I will say it was worth every penny just for the prologue. 

I don't remember anything about the O.J. Simpson trial, as I would have only been three. I knew of him only as a pop culture reference. Since FX's The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story came out earlier this year I feel a lot more caught up on story and if you're a 90's baby like me I definitely recommend watching that miniseries before diving into this book, just to give yourself some context.

Here are some facts about this book worth mentioning before I start talking about it...

  1. Simpson used a ghostwriter (Pablo F. Fenjves) to tell 'his side of the story' about what happened to Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman
  2. The publishers were under the impression that this was going to be a confession, but Simpson makes it clear the paragraph about the murder is 'hypothetical'
  3. The Goldmans stopped the book from being published (as they did not want Simpson benefitting financial from a book about Ron's murder, especially when Simpson had still not paid them for their victory in civil court) but then a bankruptcy court awarded the rights of the book to the Goldmans
  4. After a lot of back and forth the Goldmans decided to publish the book on their own terms (which included putting the 'if' from the title into a tiny font inside of the 'I' so the title reads "I Did It", as well as removing his name from the cover)
The book is broken up into four sections: 

The pre-prologue "He Did It" by the Goldman family: This section is interesting but also very sad. It gives you a timeline of their journey through the civil court system and how hard Simpson fought to pay them (he still technically owes them millions of dollars that they'll likely never see). Really it serves to justify their decision to publish the book, which I find very sad. They shouldn't have to do that but I can see why they'd want to but it's all very confusing and that's why this book is absolutely ridiculous. When this section was written Simpson hadn't already been sentenced to 33 years for armed robbery so it's kind of bittersweet knowing they eventually get (some of) the satisfaction they deserve.

The prologue by Pablo F. Fenjves: To me, this was the most interesting part of the entire book. Fenjves talks about his experience working with Simpson during the ghostwriting period. Fenjves believed firmly in Simpson's guilt and even testified against him at the trial as to the time the dog began barking by the crime scene. I found his writing during this prologue to be actually a bit funny only because the things Simpson would say were actually so unbelievable they were comical. 

"Now that we were done with the worst of it... O.J. became suddenly more voluble. He provided details about the drive home [from the murders], for example, and actually corrected me when I said I thought he'd driven through the red light at Bundy and Montana. - 'I didn't go to the light at Montana. Why would I have gone there? I took a left at the end of the alley and went up to Gretna Green.'"

He talks about how Simpson later asked for the 'hypothetical' murder section to be removed from the book, even though that was the entire basis of his book deal. When they wouldn't allow for him to remove it he tried to insist Fenjves made most of it up on his own (the interview tapes were destroyed which was fairly normal practice for ghostwriters at that time). The fact that Simpson even agreed to tell a story at all about how he 'may have' killed Nicole and Ron is about as insane as it gets.

The original manuscript written by O.J. Simpson (or Fenjves): I found this part to actually be the least interesting as he mostly outlines the facts we already know about the case. I am going to regret writing this but I even sympathized with Simpson during this section. He makes it seem as though he tried really hard with Nicole and she was always partying and playing with his head and blah blah blah I fell right into the trap as the book was initially intended for, I'm a sucker. The part where he actually kills Nicole and Ron is a little bit of a mess, likely because he made stuff up (for example, an accomplice named Charlie) so nobody took it as a literal confession. I didn't find it that hard to read because it seemed really fake, but Barbara Walters called it "one of the most chilling things [she has] ever read". 

The afterword by Dominick Dunne: I liked this section but it didn't add a lot. Dunne sat front row as a journalist through the entire court proceedings in the criminal case and became very close with the Goldman family. Dunne had lost a daughter previously to murder and her killer also faced a very unjust punishment. What I liked about this section is it humanized the Goldmans. I had always seen them as just the other side of the trial but Dunne's details about Kim and their family make you really empathize with them.

I am not always a victims' sympathizer. I do, generally, trust the justice system. I also never knew Simpson as a football star or as anything else besides a killer, so maybe I'm biased but I do fully support the Goldmans. It infuriates me that Simpson created all these loopholes so nobody could force him to pay the Goldmans the money he owes them. I ultimately hate that he wrote this book but I'm glad that I got to read the version of it that the Goldmans wanted, not the version Simpson tried to publish. 

It's definitely a very cool book because of the way it was published- because bookstores didn't know whether to put it in the fiction or non-fiction section, because they didn't know whether to handle it's release as news or entertainment. I don't think the book itself is that cool though. It's a story we've heard a thousand times only from the perspective of the murderer himself with a very 'woe is me' spin to it (which Fenjves calls "malignant narcissism"). I would, however, recommend the prologue to anyone remotely interested.

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