One of my friends calls it “the best reality show going on.” Another says, “There’s too much sadness in the world already.” Both are talking about the trial of Casey Anthony for the murder of her two-year-old daughter Caylee Anthony three years ago this month.
The Orange County Courthouse in downtown Orlando has become a tourist destination and media circus. The police broke up a brawl before dawn yesterday among those waiting in line — some overnight — for the 50 courtroom seats designated for the public.
I have avoided downtown the last few weeks, but there’s no escape. Local television stations are providing gavel-to-gavel coverage and instant analysis on air and on their web sites; reporters tweet from the courtroom while cable anchors offer updates at least every 30 minutes. NBC’s “Dateline” aired special coverage last night, and ABC’s “The View” weighs in next week. You can’t go shopping or to the post office or out to lunch without hearing ordinary folks debating the fine points of forensics or the day’s testimony. And everybody, it seems, has an opinion about “tot mom” Casey Anthony’s guilt or innocence, all of course, in the interest of “justice for Caylee.”
It’s appalling and fascinating and mind-numbing all at the same time. And I was feeling cynical about the whole lurid mess until I read a beautiful and haunting first novel about a missing persons case in North Carolina, You Believers by Jane Bradley.
I hadn’t planned on reading it because I figured it would be a downer, and I’m in a summer brain-candy mood most days. But I was immediately pulled in by the voice of Shelby Walters, a Tennessee mountain native relocated to Wilmington, N.C., where she runs a volunteer rescue service.
“I’d say my calling is saving lives, lives of the missing and the lives of those who get left behind,” Shelby tells readers. “I’ve led those gatherings of searchers through fields, armed against the snakes that wait in weeds, the alligators lurking in marshes, where somewhere in miles of fields and woods and rivers and lakes a body can be found.”
I’d have been happy to hear Shelby, so passionate and persistent, narrate the entire book, but Bradley artfully intersperses her version of the search for pretty bartender Katy with chapters told from the perspective of others involved. There’s Katy’s mother, Livy, who leaves her Lookout Mountain home and puts her life on hold to look for her daughter; Billy, Katy’s fiance who knows he is Katy’s “safe” choice; and even Katy herself, near book’s beginning, at the shopping center in her blue pick-up. Two young men also play pivotal roles: hapless Mike, a born follower who wishes he was the boy his granny believed he was “instead of the man he’d come to be,” and cruel charmer Jesse, who sometimes feels as if he has hell pent up inside him. “They told him love could save him, but they had lied.”
Love, lies, grief, fear, guilt, grace. Shelby muses on the sorrowful trails she follows, wondering if there is evil in the shadows, or is it just random violence? And how then do you make peace with a world that can lose a Katy? Or any living soul? She’ll keep searching for answers — and the missing.
Open Book: I downloaded the e-book version of Jane Bradley’s You Believers (Unbridled Press) to my nook. I’ve been following the Caylee Anthony story for three years, and I know several print and TV reporters covering the trial. I also remember George Anthony, Casey’s father, from when he worked as a security guard at the Orlando Sentinel some years ago.