Well, I’m reading something rather dark, which is what I usually go for anyway. I was asked by Gapers Block Book Club to review Survived By One: The Life and Mind of a Family Mass Murderer by Robert E. Hanlon with Thomas V. Odle.
Thomas Odle killed his parents and three siblings at the age of eighteen in 1985 and is now serving life in prison. This book is both from Dr. Hanlon, a neurologist’s, perspective and Tom Odle himself. Tom reflects on his childhood in a first person point-of-view, while Dr. Hanlon assesses Tom’s life experiences and how they led him to murder.
This book is haunting. Tom Odle’s childhood was hell. His mother abused him, chained him to his bed, made him raise his three younger siblings, and constantly told him how much she hated him and how she wished he’d never been born. He wasn’t allowed to go anywhere other than school and wasn’t allowed to have anybody over, so his social skills lacked heavily. In kindergarten, Odle went to school with a shirt soaked in blood from the whip marks on his back. It wasn’t until he was strong enough to fight back that she stopped the physical abuse, but the emotional and verbal abuse never ceased. Tom never had confidence or self-worth. His dad stood by and did nothing, as if he too feared Tom’s mother.
I won’t be ruining the rest of the book for you, however, I can’t put this book down, and I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s unsettling—this feeling sorry for or sympathetic toward a murderer—but Odle’s story is told very well, and makes you think, “Well, I can see why he would do what he did.” It’s terrifying. He even recounts the day of the murders and it’s absolutely horrifying.
This happened to me once before – this feeling sorry for a criminal – when I read the graphic novel, My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf. It covers Dahmer’s teenage years, up to the first time he committed murder. His mother was also absolutely insane and he was alone. Of course, when I then think about all of the horrifying and unforgivable things they did, I can’t feel bad, can I?
The writer in me can’t stop thinking, “What if?” What if these men had been raised with love like every kid deserves? They would have turned out so much differently and that may be what saddens me the most about these stories.