Dysfunction At Its Finest

JanBook1Who can forget their first crush? Not you – those shy looks, the careful approaches, awkward hand-holding, a cautious kiss – you’ll remember those things forever. It was so innocent then, that first ask-to-dance, that first ask-to-the-movies, but not, as in “Member of the Family” by Dianne Lake and Deborah Herman, the first ask-to-kill. In her earliest memories, Dianne Lake had a childhood that every 1950s kid wanted. Born in Minnesota to a stay-at-home mom and a father who painted houses by day and canvas by night, Lake remembers family trips, a huge backyard, loving siblings and plenty of toys. It was perfect – for a while. By 1963, Lake’s father was restless and depressed and began encouraging his wife to go with him to California to experience the growing counter-culture movement. She refused so, after a few false starts, he went by himself. Two years later he returned, and then the family moved after all, fully embracing the “hippie” lifestyle. Lake says her parents were happier then, but they were high almost constantly and they proudly shared their drugs with her. Lake enjoyed the freedom they gave her, but it scared her, too (like when the family went to a Griffith Park love-in, she got lost, and her parents didn’t even bother looking for her). Around then, she met Charles Manson. He was charismatic and kind, she says. She thought he loved her so, whole-heartedly, she immersed herself into a cult where sex was for everyone, drugs were always available, life was JanBook2free and fun, and Manson preached love (but he still used his fists on his girls). Still, she’d do anything for Charlie, although Lake had begun to think that some things weren’t quite right. When Manson gave her a knife and asked if she would kill for him, she knew they weren’t. The first thing you notice about “Member of the Family” is that it’s a little stiff. Authors Dianne Lake and Deborah Herman are frugal in their use of grammatical contractions, which doesn’t read quite naturally, and makes the storytelling feel hesitant. Keep reading, and that feeling doesn’t go away, but you do get a good sense of peace-and-love, free drugs, counter-culture hippies, and casual sex (enough to make the typical reader squirm). But, the real squirm is yet to come: it’s in a vividly-set backdrop for Lake’s memory-snippets, and a time-line that swirls like a psychedelic poster. It’s in a sense of perfect confusion and numb shock, and in the heartbeat of a narrow escape from the man who terrorized a nation. Yes, there are slow bits here or there in this book, but once you start it, you won’t be able to look away. And, with his recent death, this book is very timely. If a taut psychological thriller is what you like, “Member of the Family” crushes it.

About Terri Schlichenmeyer