I have always been fascinated by cults. I find them to be equal parts fascinating and terrifying. So, naturally, in high school I picked up a copy of Helter Skelter, learning all about the Manson Family. This book stayed with me and I actually ended up having to throw the book away because it gave me the creeps. How could people be manipulated into murder? How could one man dictate actions? What could compel a “normal” person to do such awful things?
The Manson Women and Me: Monsters, Morality and Murder, a true crime/memoir by Nikki Meredith, attempts to answer these types of questions by honing in on the Manson women and their mindsets/actions during the time of the Manson Family murder spree. Beginning with Meredith in the late 60s travelling to the California state prison, as a journalist, which was home to Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten, Meredith poses these types of questions and searches for answers over the course of 40 years.
From the first pages, I was completely sucked in. Meredith has a strong narrative voice and I thought it was brilliant to present this book as a true crime/memoir. By bringing in her personal feelings, reflections of her own childhood (growing up part Jewish and encountering some anti-Semitic people) and her own relationship that she developed with the Manson women, I found myself drawn into the STORY and not just the facts. I really appreciated this. All of her own reflections are also backed by a ton of research and other professional works that she willingly and openly cites; it is obvious that she is a well-versed woman. I really loved the mix of criminal psychology with historical significance.
I think one of the things I appreciated most about this book was how it made me think. Meredith touches on Nazi Germany and how regular Germans (not Nazi soldiers) were convinced to kill Jews, the Stanford Prison experiment, cult mentalities which all come to the same conclusion that people, who do not suffer from mental illness, can be convinced that murder/human brutality is okay in certain situations and that in these situations, after deprogramming, people can be integrated back into society without threat. This concept was so interesting to me. I went back and forth throughout my reading from being angered to feeling sympathy towards the women.
Overall, I think Meredith delivers a really well done and controversial true crime memoir/novel that will sit with me for a long time. I highly recommend.