Jeanine Cummins (“Tink” to her family) takes readers inside the personal tragedy behind the kind of senseless, violent crime that all too often appears on the evening news. In 1991, while Cummins and her immediate family are visiting relatives in St. Louis, Missouri, the unthinkable happens: her brother and two cousins find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, and a pleasant family vacation turns into a nightmare. As she writes in her Author’s Note, Cummins chooses to tell her personal tale from a third-person omniscient point of view, but the slender and sparely-written book is filled with the sorts of personal details that only a participant could record.
Clearly a literary descendant of such “nonfiction novels” as Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (1966), A Rip in Heaven: A Memoir of Murder and Its Aftermath does what most such books can only hope to do: it lets readers share the firsthand experiences of a family who suddenly find themselves not only faced with unbearable personal loss, but also victimized by the local news media. The reader shares the family’s gradually-eroding sense of hope as well as their sense of frustrated outrage when one of their own is charged with a crime. Throughout the book, as she narrates the story of this normal middle-class family and of the horror that overcame them in a single evening, Cummins seems to be forcing the reader to a chilling conclusion: It could happen to anyone.
There is no happy ending to this book, only a sense of resignation and the kind of closure that comes with the punishment of the guilty. Especially noteworthy is Cummins’s portrait of this vicious crime’s victims—everyday people who experience the kind of horror that we all think only happens to other people.