Bella Mackie: How to Kill Your Family (2021)

I used to think I was not like other girls because I prefer crime over romance. A study by Vicary and Fraley (2010), however, revealed that more women consume true crime books than men. I have not read the full journal article – I do not like or have spare moolah to pay right now – but it turns out I am exactly like other girls.

Whether it is to learn survival skills or in lieu of acting out revenge fantasies against the patriarchy – lol, not lol – my consumption of the true crime genre has stood the test of time. I remember being a 90s child glued to the likes of Kapag may Katwiran, Ipaglaban Mo! and Calvento Files, on free Philippine television. Sometimes, I wonder if I made the wrong decision to pursue the librarianship profession when deep in my guts I know that I want to be surrounded by blood.

Do I sound like a lunatic? Well, I would like to think I am not made to be a criminal. All my love for true crime stems from my strong sense of justice. Again, lol, not lol. In all my fantasies, I have always been the detective.

Maybe this is why I cannot empathize with the villain protagonist and narrator of Bella Mackie’s How to Kill Your Family. For me, murder is murder, regardless of who you eliminate.

The story is written through the eyes of Grace Bernard, a working class young woman whose life was screwed by the patriarchy from conception. It is a book (or is it a diary?) written during her incarceration for a murder she did not commit.

Grace lives for one purpose: to annihilate the entire family of the father who abandoned her before she was born. She orchestrates a series of ridiculous events – which, to be honest, are so unrealistic and largely dependent on luck (Grace is very lucky) and white/pretty/thin privilege – that would lead to the death of her grandparents, cousin, uncle, stepmom, stepsister, and eventually, her father. She also plans to make a claim of the family fortune and live happily ever after with a dog.

Now, I found her motivation shallow. It is just not unique. She and the Artemises were not a family. They did not have any relationship. Most of them did not have anything to do with her; they were just being themselves – entitled, out of touch, ultra-rich. I think she just needed an excuse for her need to kill.

As a character, Grace is extremely unlikable. First and foremost, she is a murderer. Then, she is a narcissist. She is judgmental and mean. She berates others and thinks she is better than everyone. She exploits people’s weaknesses and kindness. She is self-absorbed. She is a “pick-me”. She seems incapable of emotions. She is quite possibly a psychopath and in this case, could be genetic. I mean, most of us have had hard lives, but most of us do not become serial killers. It is hard to like someone who likes nothing in the world.

But her unlikability is quite possibly intentional. She is, after all, a serial killer. We, readers, are not supposed to sympathize with her. Normally in fiction, main characters have some sort of a redemption arc. Not Grace. Until the end she remains a horrible person, to the point that you think she deserves what she got – no matter how disappointing and anticlimactic in turns out.

And SPOILER ALERT, it is disappointing and anticlimactic. The whole novel is already hard to read, since our villain protagonist rambles a lot. But the last few chapters were just, I don’t know, meh. I’m probably the minority here but I liked the meh-ness of the ending. I liked it just because Grace lost and because she can’t get away with it. (I can be mean like that.) In a twisted way, that is still justice.

Of course, I allowed myself to feel a bit of sympathy for her. It is just unfair that she was the one who worked hard, only for the final act to be stolen from her. It is like toiling over a birthday cake and then you went out to change, only to come back to see your office mate singing the Happy Birthday and lighting the candle for the boss. But then Grace is possibly a psychopath so I think she kind of deserves it.

One thing positive is that the book could well be a textbook for social justice warriors. You need reasons to eat the rich? Read the book. You need to justify why you need to fvck the patriarchy? Read the book. You need to keep the flames of your anger burning? Read the book. You need reasons to make fun of influencers? Read the book. It talks about social problems. It even goes as far as recommend a list of feminist and social justice readings (which I will unfortunately have to buy because our local libraries suck).

By the way, the cover is nice. On the outside, it is pink and pretty. On the inside, it is madness and chaos. Like Grace. Like all of us, really.

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