Author: Ann Rule
Summary: Meeting in 1971 at a Seattle crisis clinic, Ann Rule and Ted Bundy developed a friendship and correspondence that would span the rest of his life. Rule had no idea that when they went their separate ways, their paths would cross again under shocking circumstances. The Stranger Beside Me is Rule’s compelling firsthand account of not just her relationship with Bundy, but also his life—from his complicated childhood to the media circus of his trials. Astonishing in its intimacy, you can’t help but share in Rule’s growing horror that her friend Ted was also one of America’s most notorious serial killers.
I don’t know what made me pull The Stranger Beside Me off my bookshelf. It was so long ago, and, after more than two months working from home, I’ve just… lost track of days and motivating factors. Blogging has become a chore, and reading is often pushed aside for an elusive feeling social media never fulfills. (But alas.) Part of me thinks I read this book because it was a chance to prioritize reading something I owned, and, with my library closed, maybe I wondered how long it’d be before I’d pick up an actual book. But then another part of me remembers how out-of-control March felt, the small hope that whatever this was would turn out to not be that bad. When I thought that life would get back to normal and working from home still kind of felt like an unearned and unexpected vacation. I craved whatever order I could find and, although I’d never read Ann Rule’s book before, I knew how the story of Ted Bundy ended.
Unfortunately, The Stranger Beside Me was a slog to get through. I know that sometimes enjoying a book is entirely dependent on mood, but I’m not sure better circumstances would have saved this one. I loved Rule’s unique perspective—until I suddenly found the personal interludes boring. I enjoyed how Rule played with time, jumping from crime to crime, all from a post-conviction perspective—until all I wanted was a linear play-by-play.
There are some books which brilliantly blend the author’s personal narrative with their journalistic subject—I’ll Be Gone In the Dark and The Fact of a Body remain favorites I recommend any chance I get—but there’s also true crime nonfiction that is just either too long or too broad or too dry for me to enjoy. Does that mean those books are bad? No—which is part of the reason I’m struggling to articulate just why I didn’t love The Stranger Beside Me when, based on practically all signs, I should have loved it.
I guess, after everything, it was just okay. It definitely had some interesting parts, and it’s hard to beat “serial killer biography from a journalist said serial killer befriended and confided in”. But it also meandered and was just, simply, long. (If a single tweet can’t even hold my attention right now, why did I expect a 550-page book to?) But I was happy when I finally finished The Stranger Beside Me—if only to cross it off my list.