An Inquiry into the Murder of a Family
On Sale: June 10, 2008
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Early on an April morning, eighteen-year-old Billy Frank
Gilley, Jr., killed his sleeping parents. Surprised in the
act by his younger sister, Becky, he turned on her as well.
Billy then climbed the stairs to the bedroom of his other
sister, Jody, and said, “We’re free.”
But is one ever
free after an unredeemable act of violence? The Gilley
family murders ended a lifetime of physical and mental abuse
suffered by Billy and Jody at the hands of their parents.
And it required each of the two survivors–one a convicted
murderer, the other suddenly an orphan–to create a new
identity, a new life.
In this mesmerizing book,
bestselling writer Kathryn Harrison brilliantly uncovers the
true story behind a shocking and unforgettable crime as she
explores the impact of escalating violence and emotional
abuse visited on the children of a deeply troubled family.
With an artistry that recalls Truman Capote’s In Cold
Blood, Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song,
and her own The Kiss, Harrison reveals the
antecedents of the murders–of a crime of such violence that
it had the power to sever past from present–and the
consequences for Billy and for Jody. Weaving in meditations
on her own experience of parental abuse, Harrison searches
out answers to the question of how survivors of violent
trauma shape a future when their lives have been divided
into Before and After.
Based on interviews with Billy
and Jody as well as with friends, police, and social workers
involved in the case, While They Slept is Kathryn
Harrison’s unflinching inquiry into the dark heart of
violence in an American family, and a personal quest to
understand how young people go on after tragedy–to examine
the extent as well as the limits of psychic resilience.
The New York Times called Kathryn Harrison’s The
Kiss “a powerful piece of writing, a testament to evil
and hope.” The same could be said about While They Slept.
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