Book Review — While the City Slept: Love Lost to Violence and a Young Man’s Descent into Violence

While the City Slept by Eli Sanders

While the City Slept: Love Lost to Violence and a Young Man’s Descent into Violence by Eli Sanders is the account of violence and murder in a Seattle community. Eli Sanders is the associate editor of Seattle’s weekly newspaper The Stranger. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 2012 for his reporting on the murder of Teresa Butz. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Seattle Times, The American Prospect, and Salon, among other publications.

I usually don’t read true crime books and I am not a fan of narrative nonfiction. This book, however, is a game changer. The story is told well and with enough detail that the idea to check sources passed by me. Sanders takes an almost personal role in the story telling. It was his news story back in 2012 and, much like Jon Krakauer’s reporting of a death in Alaska for Outside Magazine, the story has been extended with research down several avenues.

Teresa Butz, tomgirl, traveler, and searching for her role in life is examined from early life as one of eleven children in a Catholic family. Jennifer Hopper, a talented singer, who could not find the proper role in music New York. The two meet in Seattle and become a couple and set a date for a commitment ceremony. The book opens with the aftermath of rape and violent assault that left Teresa Butz dead and Jennifer Hopper finding refuge with a neighbor. The man responsible, Isaiah Kalebu, also has a story.

His story is told to present the how a terrible crime could happen and sadly on how it could have been prevented. It is not told for the reader to take pity on the killer. It is told to show how things work in practice rather than in reality. There are more than gaps in the system. There are gaping holes. From a bridge that has been damaged by earthquakes, caseloads for judges, and mental health budgets. Sanders points out that there are more people in prison mental health facilities than there are outside of prison. It has much more to do with budgets than the number of people requiring care. The system is not intentionally callous as it does have people who care, but so many are overworked and overscheduled to do much good.

While the City Slept, gives a very worthwhile account of the lives of Butz and Hopper and although their same-sex relationship is what brought them together, Sanders does not make that point a central theme or a rallying point. They are treated no different than a heterosexual couple which is nice to see the acceptance of relationships as norms rather than the exception. Sanders also does an excellent job of drawing the road map that brings the three people on a collision course. It is an eye-opening book on the system we all live in. Surprising too the is the role of the police in the story. The investigation of the crime takes little time and effort for the police. Isaiah Kalebu is arrested less than a week after the crime. An intensely interesting read that is difficult to put down.

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