Playing Favorites: Marcia Clark’s ‘Without a Doubt’

I am notoriously indecisive.

Painfully so. My wife can attest to this (I can’t tell you how many times she’s pulled the car over and refused to drive until I’ve picked out a restaurant for dinner, or at least narrowed down the options to less than a handful), and so can my family and friends.

It may surprise you, then, to know that I can definitively identify my very favorite book of all time: Marcia Clark’s Without a Doubt.

Without A Doubt_Covers

I don’t mean to toot my own proverbial horn, but that’s no small accomplishment, given that my bedroom looks like a book depository and I average reading more than a hundred titles per year.

Yet, since first turning the pages of Clark’s Simpson trial memoir on the very date of its publication—May 9, 1997 (confession: I didn’t have to look that up)—no other book has struck me so profoundly. Nor have I revisited any as frequently as I have Without a Doubt.

Admittedly, I’m a bit biased. Clark had become the subject of my unabashed twelve-year-old hero worship during the nine-month trial that both transfixed and polarized the nation. I was taken with her passion for justice, her voice for victims, her moral fortitude in an otherwise ambiguous arena. I cheered her on from my living room, hoping against hope that logic would trump the ridiculous, and contradictory, conspiracy theories spun by the defense. (My 1995 summer vacation souvenir? A “Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!” t-shirt purchased at a boardwalk shop in Old Orchard Beach, Maine.)

With Marcia Clark_2016_Edit

I was devastated at the Not Guilty verdicts. So much so that you would have thought somebody had died. (Actually, two people did: Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman, lest they be forgotten in all this.) Family and friends called to check in. They reminded me that there’s another judgment day. It was small consolation at the time.

Between the fall of 1995 and the spring of 1997, I scoured newspapers, magazines, even tabloids, for news on Clark’s memoir. And I absolutely harassed the local Walden Books to confirm a publication date. (In my defense, this was before the Internet was a thing.) I’m not sure which of us was more relieved when they finally had an answer. Probably them.

In that interminable wait, I read everybody else’s books on the trial: Christopher Darden’s In Contempt, Robert Shapiro’s The Search for Justice, Alan Dershowitz’s Reasonable Doubts, Hank Goldberg’s The Prosecution Responds, Vincent Bugliosi’s Outrage, Johnnie Cochran’s Journey to Justice, even Gerald Uelmen’s Lessons from the Trial. Also, titles by the likes of Faye Resnick, Sheila Weller, Jeffrey Toobin, Dominick Dunne, Joseph Bosco, Gerry Spence, Mark Fuhrman …

None of them left me entirely satisfied—and most not even passably so (though they did offer a wildly diverse array of opinions on Marcia Clark, which only served to further pique my interest in this enigmatic real-life character).

Finally, May 9th arrived—a Friday, which is an odd day for a book release.

I had to suffer through a full day of school before my dad showed up to whisk me and my mom to Media Play, where I got a copy of the book and its audio version—an abridgement on four cassettes (remember those?)—because the package carried these words: Read by the author. Even then, I knew it would be one thing to read the book and another thing entirely to hear it read in Clark’s voice.

As far as I was concerned, this excursion was over. I had a book to read, thank you very much—and one that I had waited years for. But my mother and father had other ideas. Apparently dinner would be part of the equation—and not the fast food kind but an actual sit-down meal. Torture! (This is called compromise. Or, sometimes on dates, it’s known as foreplay.)

After scarfing down an omelet that I doubt I tasted a bit of and begrudgingly handing over the book for my dad’s perusal, I stared daggers until they conceded defeat, paid the bill, and took me home. I then parked it in front of the TV for that night’s episode of 20/20 with Barbara Walters, which marked Clark’s first televised interview since the trial. To say that I was riveted would be an understatement of epic proportions. Then, I excused myself to my bedroom and so began a marathon reading session that remains unrivaled in my life of promiscuous page turning.

To this day, Without a Doubt has perhaps the most memorable opening of any book I’ve read:

During the fourteen years I spent as a Deputy D.A. for Los Angeles I believed in justice. To me, it wasn’t an abstract idea. Before the Simpson case, I’d prosecuted twenty homicides. I’d brought cases against twenty defendants who I believed in my heart were guilty. And all but one jury agreed … On the morning of June 13,  1994, when Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were found—their bodies butchered and discarded like grass clippings—all of that changed. Their murderer, O.J. Simpson, would turn justice on its head. By virtue of his celebrity, he would be coddled by worshipful cops, pumped up by star-fucking attorneys, indulged by a spineless judge, and adored by jurors every bit as addled by racial hatred as their counterparts on the Rodney King jury. O.J. Simpson slaughtered two innocent people, and he walked free—right past the most massive and compelling body of physical evidence ever assembled against a criminal defendant.

As I continued turning pages, I couldn’t help but be impressed with the writing. I’m not talking technical ability but rather tone. Though Clark had a collaborator—Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist Teresa Carpenter—her voice, authentic and distinctive, shone through from first page to last. Brutally honest. Entirely unapologetic. Humor punctuated by horror punctuated by heartbreak. (True confessions: Clark captured everything I aspire to in my own writing.)

Marcia Clark_Signed_WAD_Best

I realized at once that the book would be nearly as divisive as the verdict. Those who championed Clark would applaud her insightful analysis of what went wrong while those who criticized her performance during the trial would see it as a blame-passing money-grab. Still, Without a Doubt reached #1 on multiple bestsellers lists, and was heralded as “one of the best books on the Simpson case” (Library Journal) and “one of the liveliest and often most humorous versions of the case” (The San Francisco Chronicle). It fared equally well when reissued by Graymalkin Media earlier this year (with a new foreword by Clark)—and you can bet I added every new edition to my collection.

Ironically, Marcia Clark has been publicly “redeemed”—a term that I take exception with, given the implication that she’d done something requiring redemption—this year, thanks in large part to a sympathetic portrayal by actress Sarah Paulson in FX’s mini-series, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, and an expansive ESPN documentary, OJ: Made In America. Both projects view the Simpson trial in the context of a racially fragmented Los Angeles (which long predated the Rodney King beating), in which the verdict was largely dictated by a desire for “payback”—despite the fact that Simpson was largely removed from the African American community.

While Clark would have good reason to express a sense of validation after being scapegoated relentlessly for two decades, she has simply stated her gratification at finally being “understood.”

After nineteen years of enchantment with this book (and its author), I finally got the opportunity to review it for CriminalElement.com. Never have I struggled so mightily to capture my feelings on a subject (only to then largely censor them in an effort to be objective.) I hope this piece does a bit of justice to Marcia Clark. And I hope that you’ll take a moment to give it a read: http://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2016/08/review-without-a-doubt-by-marcia-clark-w-teresa-carpenter

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