Midnight Son by James Dommek Jr.

Book Description:

Published: October 31, 2019

Format: Audio/Audible

James Dommek, Jr., an Alaska Native writer and musician, sheds new light on a real-life mystery that pits Native American folklore against the US justice system. In the vast Alaskan Arctic, legend has it there once lived a mythic tribe—Iñukuns—that only existed in rumors and whispers. This changed forever when an actor-turned-fugitive, Teddy Kyle Smith, had an encounter that brought Iñukuns from myth to reality. Smith was an aspiring actor with a promising career until it all came quickly crashing down with a gunshot, a manhunt, bloodshed, and other frightful events.

The story of Smith’s tragic downfall has long haunted James Dommek, Jr., the great-grandson of the last of the Iñupiaq story-tellers. Midnight Son is his journey in discovering who Teddy Kyle Smith was, what he did, and what he really saw. Along the way, listeners will experience the soul of the real Alaska as narrator Dommek, Jr. brings this multilayered and sprawling tale to life.

Review –

Teddy Kyle Smith, a retired Marine, started appearing in movies as Alaska’s fledgling film industry was just taking off. But, right after his mother’s mysterious death in Kiana, Smith became the subject of a manhunt.

Smith fled into the wilderness, then shot two hunters at a remote cabin. What he said later brought to life local legends. It also initiated a legal dispute that, at its heart, questions the idea of a trial by one’s peers, if one’s peers do not understand or believe those stories, passed down through generations.

Midnight Son, which quickly become a best-seller for the audiobook service Audible, is narrated by Alaskan writer and musician James Dommek Jr.

Dommek, the great-grandson of Iñupiaq storytellers, says Teddy Smith’s story is really several stories woven together.

I thought this book would be a true crime thriller, but it is surprisingly more. I learned about Alaskan folklore, culture, and story telling in a non-traditional voice. The crime parts seemed secondary to the development of the narrator and that became of greater interest. I wouldn’t recommend to just anybody but it had my attention the whole time. It also gave a much better view of what it’s like to live in the bush than all the television  shows out there glamorizing living off the grid.

Interesting read.

 

 

The Last Days of August by Jon Ronson

Book Description:

Published: January 3, 2019

Format: Audio/Audible

In December 2017 the famous porn star August Ames committed suicide in a park in the Conejo Valley. It happened a day after she’d been the victim of a pile-on, via Twitter, by fellow porn professionals – punishment for her tweeting something deemed homophobic.

A month later, August’s husband, Kevin, connected with Jon Ronson to tell the story of how Twitter bullying killed his wife. What neither Kevin nor Ronson realized was that Ronson would soon hear rumors and secrets hinting at a very different story – something mysterious and unexpected and terrible.

In The Last Days of August, Ronson unravels the never-before-told story of what caused this beloved 23-year-old actress’ untimely death.

Review –

Until Ronson, a Welsh author, starts digging, the popular theory surrounding Ames’ suicide is that she died in response to being dragged on Twitter after making homophobic comments.

Ronson delves into these comments, gradually revealing what was said, who @’d whom, and whether Ames even saw the most vicious tweets before she died. Ames’ widower Kevin Moore has some cockamamie reasoning for why he doesn’t think the tweets were homophobic (they were), but that’s not the real issue in the podcast.

The real issue appears at the first episode’s end, when Ronson drops an interview with Ames’ friend and fellow porn actress Emma Hix. Hix says Moore had asked her to “hold a lot of things in” and not expose Ames’ “dirty little secrets.” And we’re off to the races! Except that Ronson opens the next episode with an attempt to contextualize the blood-chilling audio—deus ex machina-style—from his perspective at the end of the podcast’s investigation phase, 10 months in the future: “This will not turn out to be a murder mystery,” he says. I think that may be a big reason we all like Ronson so much—he’s got one hell of a story to tell us, but he doesn’t want to unfairly smear Moore as a murderer, in case you don’t finish all seven episodes.

The twists and turns of The Last Days of August exhausted me. Ronson runs back and forth between subjects like a reality show producer; Moore won’t let Ames hang out with her friends, Moore says Ames’ friends are pressuring her to do drugs, and so on. It feels like nothing solid ever comes out of the interviews. I can’t promise you’ll finish August feeling like a great veil has been yanked back from what Ames was thinking or what truly happened to her. But August is a fascinating show that manages something truly curious: It presents people from the porn industry quite nakedly, and you never even see them.

At the end of this sad tale nothing has been solved. No one truly knows by August Ames decided to hang herself on a stormy night in December of 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above, August Ames with husband, Kevin Moore in 2016.