Mikita Brottman is one of today’s finest practitioners of nonfiction that explores the uncertain truths revealed when violence crashes into human life ... embarks on an urgent and worthy task. Dispatching with the titular murder, in which a man in Maryland with a schizophrenia diagnosis kills his wretchedly abusive parents, in the first few pages, Brottman offers a precise and rarely seen accounting of American hospitals for the criminally insane ... I wondered how well this claim would hold up to larger-scale reporting or if applied to cases of criminally insane patients who are not physically fit white cisgender men like Bechtold. Yet Brottman never asks this question. In a choice that bummed me out, she shoves her own smart, nuanced and questioning mind to the back seat in this work, giving the wheel over almost entirely to Bechtold’s perspective and judgment ... The result is an answer to an important inquiry that does not always feel journalistically rigorous or emotionally complex ... is most powerful when it shows the compounding injustice that results when the criminal mental health system is layered on top of mass incarceration ... Unfortunately, the book suffers from a similar lack of an engaged arbiter. Nonfiction writing is never objective, but so much of the pleasure of reading literary reportage for me comes from the space between the writer and her subjects, space that allows for the tension of empathy, disgust, distrust, projection, fellowship or hate to enter. I am not talking about clichés of journalistic “distance” but rather the differentiation of one way of seeing the world from another, and the ways that an author can subtly draw a story with integrity, a kind of line of best fit, through the chaotic scatterplot of thousands of human data points. In the absence of this centering vision, what is lost in Brottman’s Couple Found Slain is insight.
While Brottman clearly believes Bechtold no longer poses a threat to himself or others, it may not be quite so clear to readers. Regardless, she makes a compelling case against the unjust, seemingly arbitrary treatment of those deemed criminally insane.
... fascinating, well-written ... Relying on interviews with Bechtold and Perkins staff, and research on similar cases, Brottman deftly points to problems at facilities like Perkins, from psychiatrists who spend too little time with patients, to high staff turnover ... This thought-provoking book adds to conversations about the role of psychiatric institutions and how society can offer solutions.