Becky Cooper was a junior at Harvard University when she first heard the story, though it had been campus lore for decades: A female student in Harvard’s graduate archaeology program was murdered by a professor with whom she was having an affair. But the police could never pin the professor down, so he walked free—and remained teaching—to this day. Cooper’s fascination with the story sparked her own 10-year investigation into the tragic, unsolved murder of Jane Britton in 1969.
Cooper’s findings culminated in We Keep the Dead Close. While it’s easy to chalk this up to just another work in the true-crime canon, the author takes great care not to sensationalize Britton’s story. Instead, she painstakingly chases down every lead, source, and tip—which, more often than not, are inconclusive. (“You need to make sure you are not wielding it to modern ends,” Cooper says of her exhaustive research process.) The result is an honest portrait of both the victim and those who loved her, as well as the cryptic, archaic world of academia. – Elise Taylor
It’s not every collection of writing that can move seamlessly from the legacy of European colonization to tepid sex with condescending men to meditations on “the anxious swaths of the pandemic’s out-of-time time,” but poet, essayist, and memoirist Jamie Hood has a gift for making many different forms of expression coexist within one work. Style-wise, How to Be a Good Girl has the disjointed candor of Jenny Zhang’s recent collection My Baby First Birthday and the detached eroticism of Melissa Broder’s Last Sext, but also a literary uniqueness that discourages comparison. The self that Hood presents on the page longs desperately to be “good,” but the question lingers: what does that even mean in a world of trauma, confusion and loss? – Emma Specter
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