Who Named the Knife: A Book of Murder and Memory.
Geoff Hamilton is a Killam Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of
Spalding, who has previously published three novels, offers here a non-fiction account of her involvement with Maryann Acker, a woman convicted of murder in Hawaii in 1982. Before being dismissed for arriving late to the proceedings, Spalding had served as a juror at Acker’s trial and kept a journal. Discovering that journal nearly two decades later, Spalding was moved to begin a correspondence with Acker, in part because of a lingering sense of doubt about the woman’s guilt. The book concludes with Spalding’s description of her efforts to assist in getting Acker a new trial.
Following in the tradition of true crime writers such as Truman Capote and Norman Mailer, Spalding gives us a memoir that skilfully blends an analysis of the case against Acker with a probing investigation of parallels between the two women’s lives. The book’s title alludes to a contested point of the murder—the responsibility of Acker or her boyfriend William for the fatal act—while also suggesting the author’s thematic interest in the uncertainties of memory and the slipperiness of blame.
One of the most engaging aspects of this narrative is the doubt that plagues the author, even as she is drawn further into sympathy with her subject: “How much do I believe? How much of our brand-new friendship is concocted out of thin air and guilt?” Both women, it seems, have had troubled relationships with controlling men, and Spalding notes that Acker’s fateful relationship with William in some ways resembles an important romantic relationship in her own life. Spalding reveals, moreover, that her own father, though less brutal than the men in Acker’s life, continually bullied her in a way that resembles Acker’s experiences: “I was always being tested. He’d say, What did I tell you yesterday? And I’d have to recite it.” This claim is in some tension with the author’s declaration in her acknowledgements that “My father taught me to think […].” Nevertheless, the connections drawn between author and subject make for a dramatic and compelling story.