So far, I’ve been relatively coy about my feelings towards Joe McGinniss’ depiction of Jeffrey MacDonald.
Before this reading, McGinniss’ MacDonald is a charming, yet bumbling idiot whose hilariously bad alibi was miraculously validated by an even more hilarious, Benny Hill-theme-scored Army investigation. However, the end of the Article 32 hearing marks the beginning of MacDonald’s heel turn: no longer a man plagued by a suspicious nervousness, the new MacDonald’s swagger and media savvy, powered by his resounding victory, propels him to a national audience. Once an empathetic, if problematic victim of a bizarre triple murder, McGinniss’ new MacDonald is all about getting real paid, courtesy of a murder we’re still not entirely sure he didn’t commit.
A great writer never writes anything by accident. Because every word is scrutinized, and every sentence is assembled with precision, a great writer’s finished product resembles something comparable to a bridge, a feat of engineering where every strut and rivet serves such a hyperspecific function that it’s hard to imagine the bridge functioning without it. So it must be said that Joe McGinniss is a great writer, and by extension, Fatal Vision is a great book.
But there’s something deeply hypocritical about McGinniss’ exploration of this dark chapter in MacDonald’s story, and for that, I feel comfortable dropping the pretense: fuck Joe McGinniss.