Thursday, 29 March 2012

Journey for Justice Assignment

As a school assignment we were told to read the true crime book “Journey for Justice: How ‘Project Angel’ Cracked the Candace Derksen Case” by Mike McIntyre, which chronicles the last days of the young girl and the sentencing of her killer. This is the first true crime novel I’ve read, and my reaction to it was tentative, because it seemed to be presented as both fiction and non-fiction, but never defining itself as either. 

I felt that the placement of the events in the novel were smart. McIntyre revealed Mark Grant as the killer in the first chapter of the book, which I felt to be a good choice considering Grant’s recent sentencing. It’s no murder mystery. Then he outlines the aftermath of the deed and how the family navigated this traumatic event. In the third section of the book the reader discovers that Grant came from a very broken home and had mental health issues; but this is only revealed after the family finds Candace’s small, frozen body in an industrial area. We first come to hate the killer, but then find a way to somehow justify his actions. Candace’s parents grew to forgive the man who took the life of their daughter, acting as models for the reader.

In my opinion “Journey for Justice” was difficult to read through. The journalistic style, I think, is more impactful in short bursts, and the fact-based nature of the writing was dry after an extended period of time. McIntyre mentioned how he was frustrated with the limitations that newspapers offered, and that “so much of the story was being untold”, which is initially why he decided to write the book. I didn’t understand, though, why he insisted how hugely important the Mennonite faith was for the Derksens, to the degree that it felt like he had an agenda. I think if you’re going to write a non-fiction book, you shouldn’t include so many passages about faith. Even as a believer, I felt excluded.

The most important lesson that I learned from the book is that “nothing beats being there”. Wilma Derksen, Candace’s mom, wrote a book called “Have You Seen Candace?” where she chronicled her own experience with the murder and was able to capture minute details and sentences uttered 20 years in the past. McIntyre was able to take passages from Wilma’s book and convey these personal elements to the reader. During the presentations, he recounted how he drove 4 hours to Saskatchewan on a whim to try and get an exclusive interview, and ended up spending 10 hours with the family. I am trying to be fully present when I conduct interviews now, trying to notice things that I wouldn’t normally notice and focusing on more than just what’s being said.

The true crime book “Journey for Justice” can be comparable to a biography, but instead of chronicling someone’s life, it chronicles the aftermath of their death. To me, both of these genres of storytelling demonstrate the power and importance that one person can have onto others. The tangible qualities of a book- the paper, ink, and binding- live on after the subject is gone in the same way that the story of a person can continue to live on as tangibly as our minds allow.

I feel as though the book and the presentations were overshadowed by a big, looming figure... Mike McIntyre. In journalism we are told to report the facts, but this assignment opened my eyes to the subjectivity that journalists have access to. I mentioned previously how omnipresent the Mennonite faith was in the book, and so on presentation day I expected Wilma Derksen to be a crazy bible-thumper preaching the word of God at every turn. What I saw was a well-spoken, impossibly-cheery mother who has taken an extremely traumatic event and has tried to make some good happen.

What I found most surprising was Wilma’s definition of “faith”, which she defines to be a “comprehensive, well-rounded worldview”. Wilma first credited the communication skills she learned at Red River in helping her get through the trauma and make her initial on-camera plea for the safe return of her daughter. Perhaps she was toning down her spirituality to better connect with the crowd, but the Wilma that McIntyre portrays did not match the mother that I saw. McIntyre also inserted himself throughout the presentation by answering questions that were directed at Wilma and speaking over her. I’d like to have read her book and see her present without the Free Press reporter.

I told Wilma after her presentation that she gave us some really good quotes, you can tell that she’s a journalist. She left me with a very impactful idea, she said “everyone is writing a story, Mark Grant was writing a story, a novel filled with twists and turns. In this modern age, it sometimes feels as though “storytelling” is a thing of the past, but Wilma made me realize that the art form still exists but the parameters have shifted.  

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