Rebecca Makkai, a deserving Pulitzer finalist for her moving second novel The Great Believers, achieves something quite extraordinary with I Have Some Questions For You.
She manages to write an entertaining page-turner about our obsession with true crime that shows both complete command of the genre - this is a whodunnit that kept me awake past 1 a.m. on a school night - and an ability to critique it, and in doing so unpacks the sexism, classism and racism that still define our relationship to crime.
A film critic and podcaster returns to the elite boarding school of her youth to teach a seminar on podcasting. Haunted by the murder of her then roommate Thalia, which resonates with her own personal trauma, she becomes obsessed with proving the convicted killer’s innocence.
Makkai’s brilliance lies in making Thalia a stand-in not just for every beautiful young dead girl that our true crime addiction problematically revolves around, but a prompt to consider all of the women who are abused, still, every single day.
It lies in making her male suspects examples of all of the micro-aggressions and dangerous attitudes we turn a blind eye on, which together create a permission structure that enables violence against women.
It lies in turning her story into an uncomfortable challenge to the reader’s own biases and complicit behaviours. The titular ‘You’ in I Have Some Questions For You refers to a particular suspect, but it may as well refer to the reader.
Makkai thus works against the tendencies of true crime: she de-objectifies the victim, questions our need for sensationalism and the effectiveness of outrage, and seeks out systemic failures over individual ones.
That the novel works both as entertainment and as informed, thoughtful and angry social commentary (including on what we choose to be entertained by) confirms Makkai as a true master of her craft.