Your Life is Mine
Nathan Ripley
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Buy *Your Life is Mine* by Nathan Ripley online

Your Life is Mine
Nathan Ripley
Atria Books
304 pages
June 2019
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Documentary filmmaker Blanche Varner is in a precarious situation. She's haunted by the murder of her mother, Crissy, and the death of her father, Chuck Varner, a notorious killer who shot up a bunch of people twenty years ago at a mall in the California town of Stilford. Blanche--together with her best friend, Jaya--wants to make a film about the killings that doesn't necessarily focus on Chuck. Chuck is long gone; no one thinks about him anymore. Still, Blanche is tormented by visions of him sleeping in the narrow bed in their trailer the night before the mall shooting.

Like Charles Manson, Chuck spent much of his life speculating about potential future disciples and making ambitious plans for his followers, whom he asked to follow a code he called "your life is mine." Blanche remembers how Chuck held her hand while he walked into the mall, and the night that she left Chrissy's forever with Chuck's AR-10, promising to return.

Much of the media for the last twenty years has glorified Varner and made him into some sort of avatar of working-class struggle: "white trash Lenin with a rifle." But with the release of a book written by a popular biographical author and then her son's efforts to write a book on Blanche, Blanche's life is filled with complications. A woman born to document and explore murder, Blanche retraces Chrissy's world and the months leading up to her murder. Blanche is not convinced that Chrissy was killed for a random reason, but rather by someone with an interest in Chuck Varner and i"his cult bullshit." She's sure there will be more killings, "probably all at once and probably a spree."

Your Life is Mine is bigger than Blanche, bigger than Chrissy and bigger than Jaya's own family secrets. Now there is a new threat, a killer threatening to "let the bullets loose again." Chrissy was shot with a small-caliber handgun in a home invasion that Detective Dan Maitland calls a "trailer invasion." Maitland believes that Chrissy must have known the shooter, and that the shooter--now called "the boy"--is planning a new massacre. Chrissy may have taught him and tried to make him "her instrument."

Ripley circles Blanche's past and Maitland's efforts to find Chuck's copycat killer, as well as Chrissy's world of sleaze and dishonesty. Maitland is fanatical in his message to Blanche: there was more to Crissy's death than a clash with a meth-head. But Blanche is caught up in fighting the public perception that Chuck Varner's "fucked-up, whacko daughter" has a need for pleasure and chaos "or perhaps even pleasure IN chaos," like a "Charles Manson rant."

Ripley's novel barrels towards a violent conclusion in which The Boy is given him enough time to make sure that every hour of Blanche's return to Silford is carefully choreographed. Only through Blanche can The Boy feel close to Chrissy. With a killer after her, Blanche is alone, without protection and thus vulnerable to the people around her. She's left staring into Chrissy's treasure box looking for clues while Emil Chadwick focuses on Chuck Varner's idiocy and whatever Chrissy may have planned in her weird coded messages and her dead body, pushing Blanche into some pretty unavoidable suspicions. As Blanche's confrontation with her fractured past frustrates us with its half-understood truths of an unknown death cult headed up by her dead father and mother.

Ripley delivers another shocking thriller chockful of the desperate actions and easy gun violence of an out-of-control culture. The horrific is rendered absurd and hilarious (but not ineffectual) as the author crashes gleefully through boundaries in a world where sometimes we need to listen to those who are silent but communicate with us in their own way.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2019

Also by Nathan Ripley

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