By Gary Indiana
HarperCollins, 319 pp., $24.95
You remember that dynamic duo Sante and Kenneth Kimes. They were the mother/son tag team who killed that 82-year-old Manhattan heiress Irene Silverman in 1998 so they could get their hands on Silverman's multimillion-dollar, Upper East Side townhouse. The couple didn't get what they wanted, but it wasn't for lack of trying and it certainly wasn't for lack of know-how. By the time they were captured, these two (with, then without, the help of Sante's bourbon-headed third husband) had already gotten away with all manner of grand larceny, extortion, insurance fraud, bank fraud, forgery, car theft, identity theft, arson, money laundering, racketeering, shoplifting, more murder, incest, and, to cap it all, a photo op with then-first lady Pat Nixon. (Sante did do time, once upon a time in California, for "slavery," but that was a strictly in-house job. Plus, those illegal aliens abducted and literally locked into doing unpaid housework were clearly uncomprehending ingrates from across the border and never mind the threats with a red-hot iron, boiling water, etc.)
But to give the Kimeses their due, they did succeed in winning the tabloids', Vanity Fair's, Mary Tyler Moore's (in a made-for-TV movie), yours, and now Gary Indiana's attention in his book Depraved Indifference, the third in this author's American Crime Trilogy. (Volume one's focus: mom-and-pop killers the Menendez boys in Resentment: A Comedy; volume two's: publicity-mad Versace-killer Andrew Cunanan in Three Month Fever.) And could there be a better author than this Pop-inspired namesake to do the dirty work he does here? Indiana's ongoing investigation: the American dream deformed, capitalism at its down and dirtiest. His model American family in American literature: Faulkner's Snopeses. His loosely fictionalized family in Depraved Indifference: Kimes stand-ins the Slotes.
When this insane story opens, Warren Slote is already a booze-hound and millionaire builder of a string of cheap motels that disfigure the California coastline. But it was World War II that first turned him onto the art of the scam. By war's end he was "energized" into "a state of nervous ambition and patriotic mendacity." And once he was done with real estate, the process was complete: this member of "the greatest generation" had become, in Indiana's phrase, "a familiar kind of emotionally retarded parasite" and future "alcoholic puppet of his sociopath wife," aka, according to innocent bystanders, "that lowlife bitch from hell."
Enter that wife, a twice-married mother to one son (Darren, "dropsical bedwetting brat" by age 7, thief, liar, and "budding pyromaniac" by age 10) and Liz Taylor look-alike when she and Warren first meet in some bar in Vegas. (The Mint? The 4 Queens? "something like that.") And here she is in her prime: "Angela/Evelyn looked hallucinatory, like some precipice about to be fallen off," according to Warren's vision of such drop-dead bogus gorgeousness, "in a polyester crepe evening gown that had a lot of open space in front, white as a new refrigerator, the region just under her cleavage speared by a preposterous rhinestone-encrusted, fake garnet dragonfly brooch of a color Warren associated with bone marrow biopsies." Evangeline works Warren good. "She wanted people to experience them as a couple. A couple of what changed from week to week ... ."
They become that couple, a highly mobile couple. They live the high, crooked life. Their houses in Hawaii, Vegas have this bad habit of bursting into flame. They scam: any born loser in sight, any bright lawyer in spite of himself, any family member who halfway gets wise, threatens to gum up the works. Lawsuits: all over the place; the Slotes: countersuits to gum up the courtwork.
And then Warren and Evangeline produce Devin, a bad seed if ever there was one and who's to blame him for that zonked-out expression of his, what with that wig-wearing, turban-headed mother of his pawing where no mother has any business planting a paw? Then Warren has a heart attack or something. He's out of the picture, dust, literally. Mama and son: destination: New York, New York. A mansion on East 65th. And, thanks to a pizza-delivering, gun-toting nobody Mama and son once bamboozled, a couple of waiting FBI agents. Too late. That millionairess -- named here Wanda "Baby" Claymore, owner of that five-floor household filled with fatuous New Yorkers -- ends up a bag lady and in the dumps, literally, "an integral structural element of the newest and largest Home Depot outlet in the state of New Jersey."
This is nasty business Indiana's writing of, the facts heightened maybe, not falsified, by a writer clearly outraged at what passes for America the beautiful and business as usual until business means murder. Indiana's trademark attack on the "media" isn't so much at issue here; our complicity (note the legalese of that title Depraved Indifference) is. What are we doing putting a high gloss on such freak shows of ambition and worse? Kenneth Kimes, jailbird for life, in October 2001 held a reporter for Court TV hostage until that reporter was freed. Sante Kimes, jailbird for life, has requested and received permission to act as her own attorney in Los Angeles on another murder charge. The show must go on?