No Way to Treat a First Lady
In No Way to Treat a Lady, Christopher Buckley satirizes the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal with overly ambitious First Lady Beth McMann, who’s accused of murdering her philandering husband after she catches him with a Marilyn Monroe-esque mistress. Most of all, the book mocks the media circus around Beth’s case, which resembles the O.J. Simpson trial.
Cartwheel adopted its outline from college student Amanda Knox, accused of murdering a housemate during study abroad, her supposed guilt compounded by her odd behavior. However, DuBois creates specific details—like Lily Hayes performing a cartwheel during her interrogation—that separate the story. The fact that Knox’s fate was uncertain when the book was published in 2013 further helps Cartwheel stand on its own.
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress
Ariel Lawhon drew inspiration not only from the 1930 disappearance of New York City judge Joseph Crater, but from his wife Stella’s odd tradition every year after to toast him on this bizarre anniversary. Speaking through Stella, she also added Crater’s fictional maid and mistress for a strange, three-pronged, delightfully interconnected tale.
House of Leaves
Mark Z. Danielewski
Throughout “The Navidson Record,” war photographer Will Navidson appears haunted by someone he calls Delial. We later discover that Delial is the name he gave to a famine-stricken girl, stalked by a vulture, whose photo he took rather than help her. This subject was real, albeit nameless, immortalized by Pulitzer-winning photographer Kevin Carter (who later took his own life).
After has a compelling protagonist in Devon, a type-A student with an uninspiring maternal figure of her own, who is so in denial about being pregnant that she tries to throw her newborn into the trash. While the setup draws in readers, the follow-through is weak, more about “dumpster babies” than the helpless mothers who abandon them.
The writers of Law & Order aren’t the only ones who pull their stories from the cultural zeitgeist. Novelists tap into the world just as cleverly in these books inspired by real-life shocking revelations and unsolved mysteries. A point of warning: many of these stories are disturbing, based as they are on murders, kidnappings, assaults, affairs, accidents, and other strange phenomenon. But perhaps in reading these writers’ takes on real events, layered with their own experiences, you’ll gain a fresh perspective.