There’s been chatter online about Mrs. Rawson, the daughter of the BTK killer, who came forward to express criticism about a story King wrote, centering around a woman who discovers her husband might be a serial killer. For full context, do follow up at the article, and consider taking the actual time to read it (as opposed to pretending you read it.)
People are attacking Mrs. Rawson for suggesting that King’s work may have influenced her father (and, alternately, attacking her for having the poor taste to be born the daughter of a deeply disturbed man, attacking her for having an opinion, attacking her for having ulterior motives driven by profit, etc.)
In the writing community, none of us want to think too deeply about things we write having the power to affect the world in a negative way, because we prize our freedom to write about what subjects move us. I’ve always supported that freedom, necessary to open and creative cultures, and always will. Mr. Rader has become a public figure as a result of his infamous deeds; his life is therefore open to exploitation. But Mrs. Rawson isn’t asking for legislation to curb writing, and she isn’t telling Mr. King not to write on the subject — she states along the lines that she’d prefer he not have the connection mentioned. From the article: “Stephen King has the right to tell a story, but why bring us into it? Why couldn’t he just find inspiration for another good story, but leave out where it all came from?”
There’s plenty of controversy to pick apart. She calls out King for exploiting these events — and exploit is defined as “to make use of”. She thinks King should contribute profits to good causes. “Exploiting” tragedy is pretty much the foundation of a large majority of our news service and infotainment; if that kind of exploitation stopped tomorrow, our entire media would probably fall apart, but no one’s requesting CNN to donate money to charity. One can make up their own mind on how they feel about those statements, but what surprises me is what many overlooked. While many were eager to speak on how ludicrous it was for Mrs. Rawson to suggest that King’s work is the reason for Mr. Rader’s murders, here’s the point to drive home: Mrs. Rawson never intimated that King is the reason for her father’s murder — only a possible influence on the nature of his crimes.
Of all the books people discussed, not a single person brought up Gerald’s Game in connection to the BTK killer.
Was that a deliberate omission, did not enough people read it, or did it hit a chord too close to home? People felt free to wildly speculate on Mrs. Rawson’s personal motives — but we didn’t dare speculate she might have an intuition the rest of us lack.
We don’t like to imagine a fatherly Mr. Rader, snug on the couch with Kerri by his side, his son on the other, all the affects of a warm and loving family life, as the BTK killer quietly turns a dog-eared, well-loved copy of Gerald’s Game. I owned one myself. I remember the cover well: a handcuff dangling ominously from a headboard.
Consider the troublesome loop of fate: Mr. Rader may have read Gerald’s Game. It’s a speculative guess; but not an improbable one. And down that timeline, imagine Mr. King reading an article on the BTK killer, coming full circle, using the event as an inspirational springboard, as writers are wont to do. An energetic exchange occurs between two men who have never met — an energy neither bad nor good, but neutral. Or perhaps, merely indifferent. Fate, you see, can be elegant, even while it horrifies.
Our own grasp on history is poor at best — it was King himself, not so long ago, who allowed Rage to go out of print, for fear it might inspire school-aged children to commit crimes in the fashion of the book’s troubled main character. I do not get the impression that King was so willing to dismiss connections to his work as having an influence on the world — even while acknowledging that his work is not the reason atrocities occur, as he discusses in his essay, “Guns.” We cannot control what the exterior world does with our work as writers — but that does not make us blind to the effects.
Instead of reasoned argument and rational discourse, civil disagreements, the sharing of opinions and exchange of ideas, what I witnessed in various places was unbridled sadism against Mrs. Rawson, driven by extreme emotion, desire to control and persecute and punish, irrational thought processes, and worst of all, by people who clearly didn’t read the article in the first place. Whether Mrs. Rawson is right or wrong in her assertions is not the debate that has kept me up through the night. How we deal with differing viewpoints is paramount. In a tragic twist of irony, I read comment threads that played out like scenes from the now out-of-print Rage.
And that is behavior that would make any serial killer proud.