There's a strange narrative tension in a true-crime story being told by someone who experienced the crime...We understand immediately that such stories aren't here to reconstruct the crime so much as they are to take you through the visceral experience of the crime itself ... Betz-Hamilton dutifully lays out just how damaging it was ... The trauma casts such a long shadow that things which might preoccupy another memoir are only footnotes here ... It's a briskly-written book; the air of menace is palpable — and occasionally so effective that Betz-Hamilton seems to recede from her own narrative, bursts of visceral motion overshadowed by long periods of passive action narrated through a fog of dread. But then again, that's part of the point; how do you — how can you — put aside something that followed you for so many years? The mystery of that childhood identity theft — interwoven with her understated coming-of-age and some family truths — is a deeply compelling story of a crime that hit close to home.
Despite the particularly modern horror of identity theft that lies at the center of The Less People Know About Us, a memoir by Axton Betz-Hamilton, the book reads like a grim folk tale ... The Less People Know About Us was written in collaboration with Ashley Stimpson, a talented freelance journalist and professional ghostwriter ... involved in both the writing and the reporting. The resulting book is intimate and engrossing but can also have a claustrophobic, cluttered feel in its thicket of details. As many memoirs do, it includes experiences that were personally formative but are extraneous to the narrative. In stating her objective in writing it, Betz-Hamilton seems to misunderstand the genre ... the test of a memoir is its ability not just to speak to those who’ve had similar experiences but, through the enchantment of good writing, to draw all readers into the writer’s unique life despite disjunctures of circumstance. With its piercing evocations of a lonely girl in a disconsolate world trying to protect herself from seen and unseen maternal enmity, this book passes that test better than many, but not, perhaps, as well as it might.
The big twist in the story is telegraphed so early that you wonder which reader doesn’t see it. But it still leads you to ask questions, some of which Axton can’t answer. She also includes photos of herself and her family, and their mundane, generic, Midwestern Americanness—all offices, dogs, Christmas trees, and rocking chairs on porches—makes the story even creepier. It’s a Black Mirror episode about greed, fear, betrayal, sex, and self-creation. After reading The Less People Know About Us, I got a password manager for all my accounts. Thank you for that, Axton Betz-Hamilton.