Utne Reader Book Reviews: September-October 2008

| September-October 2008

Obscene Contradictions
Most Outrageous : The Trials and Trespasses of Dwaine Tinsley and Chester the Molester
by Bob Levin (Fantagraphics)

The evidence was distasteful: 3,200 cartoons addressing such subjects as child abuse, dead babies, and human excrement, many depicting a nerdy-looking pedophile known as Chester the Molester, all created by Dwaine Tinsley, cartoon editor for Hustler magazine. The charges were clear: 16 counts of child molestation, “oral copulation,” and incest. Surely the man was a beast.

Lurid and fascinating, Bob Levin’s book Most Outrageous recalls Akira Kurosawa’s film Rashomon. It presents a daughter’s and a father’s conflicting tales, along with testimony of psychotherapists, friends, and police officers. Though the book is loathsome in its details, there are compelling reasons to stick with it. For one, it could be any one of us in jail for expressing our most outrageous ideas. As an attorney, Levin sees the shortcomings of adversarial law. Justice is tenuous, his account suggests. Prosecution is a phone call away, and conviction as near as a jury wanting to reach compromise and go home. The book also forces readers to consider what it would be like to have a child accuse them of abuse. (Tinsley’s 18-year-old daughter accused him of having had sexual contact with her “at least 100,000” times.)

Convicted in 1990 and sentenced to six years in prison, Tins­ley served more than a year before his conviction was overturned. A California appellate court ruled that cartoons introduced as evidence had prejudiced the jury. Now only one person knows the truth about what happened, Levin says. (Tinsley died after a heart attack in 2000.) What the rest of us know, Levin shows, is that sins of fathers and mothers are still visited upon their children. Ultimately we are our own judges. —Chris Dodge

Shopping for Porcupine: A Life in Arctic Alaska
by Seth Kantner (Milkweed)

Seth Kantner grew up in a sod igloo in remote Alaska in a family that trapped and shot their dinner, built their own dogsleds, and became almost Eskimo as they learned from Natives—great material, in other words, for a budding nature writer and photographer. In Shopping for Porcupine, Kantner captures in words and photos the magnificent harshness of life on the edge: of the tundra, of society, of the 21st century. A collection of essays rather than a complete memoir, the book nonetheless sketches a narrative arc and returns often to a common theme: One can no longer move far enough away from civilization to escape its effects. Snowmobiles, technology, and now climate change, he writes, are irrevocably changing the landscape right outside his caribou-skin door. —Keith Goetzman

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