While They Slept: An Inquiry ino the Murder of a Family
Booklist Reviews 2008 April #2
You can count on Harrison for white-water prose and ferocious candor. In her daring variation on In Cold Blood, Harrison takes us to an isolated house in Oregon where, in 1984, 18-year-old Billy Gilley beat his parents and 11-year-old sister, Becky, to death with a baseball bat. He then informed his terrified 16-year-old sister, Jody, that they were finally free from their parents' abuse: the Gilley household had been a veritable theater of horrors. Harrison, who survived her own shocking "point of rupture," an incestuous affair with her father (recounted in The Kiss, 1997), revisits the heart-wrenching Gilley case in a quest to understand its "before and after." While incisively analyzing her tricky conversations with Billy—who writes children's fantasies (he didn't mean to kill Becky) while serving three consecutive life sentences—and with Jody, a successful communications strategist, Harrison painstakingly chronicles their legacy of violence, how society failed Billy at every turn, and how as a girl-in-peril Jody found strength and guidance in books. Reaching more deeply, she looks to Greek myths for keys to the grim mysteries of incest and patricide. Harrison's intense and resonant inquiry affirms the cathartic power of story, and reflects on the miraculous cycle of loss and rebirth. Copyright 2008 Booklist Reviews.
LJ Reviews 2008 February #1
A novelist on real family violence: teenaged Billy -Gilley battered his parents and one sister to death, then told a second sister that they were finally free. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
LJ Reviews 2008 June #1
Ideally, the family environment is a loving, nurturing one where children are cherished and cared for. This is not always the case. Some children are raised in an emotionally and/or physically abusive environment, and the harm bestowed can haunt them throughout their lives. In rare cases, a child may take revenge against the abusive parents. Such was the case with Billy Gilley Jr. In While They Slept , novelist/memoirist Harrison (The Kiss ) describes the details that led to Billy killing his parents as they slept and then his youngest sister, Becky, who walked in on the act. Gilley believed that he would be liberating his other sister, Jody, from their abusive parents. Harrison's accounts of these 1984 slayings come from interviews with Billy (who is still imprisoned) and surviving sister Jody and from a variety of documents (e.g., transcripts of 911 calls). Just as unusual as Harrison's pursuing this subject 24 years after the murders is her intertwining an account of own abusive childhood throughout the narrative. Whatever the title may say, it is evident that Harrison is using the Gilley tragedy as a means of dealing with her own abusive relationship with her father. Though the narrative can therefore sound self-indulgent, she does a good job of reviewing the Gilley case, offering a fundamental look at the searing private dramas that can lead to family tragedy. Recommended for criminal justice collections.—Tim Delaney, SUNY at Oswego[Page 110]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
PW Reviews 2008 April #3
In the early morning of April 27, 1984, outside Medford, Ore., 18-year-old Billy Gilley bludgeoned his parents, Bill and Linda, and his 11-year-old sister, Becky, to death. He believed his act would allow him and his 16-year-old sister, Jody, to free themselves from an abusive home. Comprising extensive interviews with both Jody, a Georgetown graduate and victims' rights advocate, and Billy, serving three consecutive life sentences in Oregon, Harrison recounts the trial, where Jody was the prosecution's star witness, and attempts to understand the Gilleys' troubled family history. Despite differing accounts from the now estranged siblings on the severity of their parents' abuse, it's clear that both parents routinely engaged in verbal and physical cruelty. Billy claimed his murder of Becky was unintentional, but it sealed his fate. Novelist and memoirist Harrison (The Kiss ) attends admirably to detail, and her dissection of the effects of violence on both perpetrators and victims is thorough. But by bookending the account with musings on her incestuous relationship with her own father—already addressed in both her fiction and nonfiction—Harrison dilutes the power of the Gilleys' story. (June 17)[Page 47]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.