In this exploration of women, violence, and obsession, Monroe interrogates the appeal of true crime through four narratives of fixation. In a combination of personal narrative, reportage, and a sociological examination of violence and media in the 20th and 21st centuries, she explores empathy, justice, and the persistent appeal of violence.
...a new, necessary and brilliant book ... Monroe treats each individual narrative with nuance, empathy and transparency, allowing both the protagonists and their supporting cast to remain complex. She delves into the social and political ramifications of each narrative, making accessible and visible what so often gets overlooked in these stories because it's too complicated to put into a headline or summary. Monroe's book is a pleasure to read because it is smart, well-researched and well-written — beautifully, really ... But more than that, Savage Appetites is important because it refuses to sit inside binaries of good vs. evil, victim vs. perpetrator, innocent victim vs. mastermind criminal. It doesn't give us easy answers for why women are the main consumers of true crime narratives, because there aren't any because women as a category are not monolith and because it's complicated and nuanced and different for everyone. The book is important also because I suspect there are more than a few of us who, like Monroe herself, feel conflicted about their desire to consume stories of murder and mayhem and wonder what it reflects about the world around us and ourselves.
...[an] enthralling book ... worth consuming in one sitting ... Monroe zeroes in on the aftermath of murder, on the morbid curiosity that draws eager civilians toward the crime scene and catapults them into starring roles. She avoids the formulaic professional tropes of true crime ... It might seem like a mistake, in the book’s 'Victim' section, to focus on a crime as familiar as the murder of Sharon Tate, but Monroe has a knack for nosing a new story out of an old one, like a detective casting fresh eyes on a cold case ... Monroe’s only real misfire in Savage Appetites is the personal history she scatters through the book...The crescendo in each section is tempered by these vignettes, like a death knell muted by a leather baffle. To interrupt her narrative to describe her Googling a random murder in her hometown is akin to a friend pausing Law & Order to tell you about the time someone she never met was murdered hundreds of miles away ... By the end of the book, I found myself almost admiring the emotional plasticity of women who consciously scramble the logic of the predator-prey relationship in order to escape their unsatisfying lives.
By looking at women looking at violence, Monroe doesn’t quite answer the question of why women love true crime — as she points out, women are a diverse group with a wide variety of motivations. Instead, she ends up with something subtler and more useful, a call to action for crime-heads to consume the stories they want, but to do so critically ... Monroe is a perceptive narrator, and I sometimes wished for more of her personal story, which produces many of the book’s best insights but often peters out inconclusively ... Monroe connects the appeal of true-crime stories, which run 'on an engine of empathy,' with the persuasive power of the victims rights movement, which encouraged onlookers to put themselves in a murdered girl’s place ... Most valuable is the moral nuance that Monroe brings to a genre that inspires fierce fandoms and disgusted dismissals but not enough scrutiny in between. She writes with clarity about the ways true crime distorts our vision ... I’m bound to think of Savage Appetites often, and soon.