by Taylor Vidmar
Welcome! My name is Taylor, and I like books. A lot. In this bi-weekly column I’m going to be reviewing the books I read so you can decide if you want to read them too. Some books may be old, some may be new, some may have been sitting on my bookshelf for months, collecting dust as I think “Crap, I really should have read that by now.”
You can add me on Goodreads to find out what I’m reading all year long. Now, on to the review!
I first found out about Carolyn Murnick’s The Hot One after reading an excerpt in The Cut. It immediately caught my eye because the author was a close childhood friend of the woman she writes about.
Ashley Ellerin was murdered in her home at only twenty-two years old, and Murnick has spent over a decade attempting to process her murder. Murnick’s search through police reports and court documents is clouded with fragmented memories of their childhood together, images of what Ashley’s life may look like if she were still alive today, and, above all else, questions of what really happened to Ashley.
So, this book isn’t just about crime. Yes, there are a lot of graphic, difficult-to-read moments in this book. But what makes it really special is how Murnick uses her friendship with Ashley as a lense into female friendships as a whole and how we categorize women based on one outstanding characteristic. You are the smart one, you are the hot one, etc.
Around the time of Ashley’s murder, the two women had begun to drift apart. This is partially due to Murnick’s discovery of Ashley’s lifestyle of dating older men and stripping occasionally.
She was shocked and worried when she made this discovery about Ashley. Moreover, this discovery (made during the last time they ever saw each other) confirmed what Murnick had begun to suspect about Ashley and herself: that they were just different — Ashley was “the hot one,” and she was “the smart one.”
Murnick’s initial difficulty processing Ashley’s lifestyle nearly parallels the sexist propaganda about Ashley’s life that was brought up in her murderer’s court hearings and in the media surrounding her case. Due to her connection to Ashton Kutcher, her face was plastered in trashy tabloids with headlines like “Ashton’s Tragic Night.” Her alleged killer’s attorney called her a “party girl” and insinuated that she was promiscuous and brought what happened to her upon herself. It is all heartbreaking and infuriating, and it all leads to Murnick’s urgency to figure out Ashley’s life and death.
What Murnick eventually realizes is she’s never going to ever fully understand what happened to Ashley because it will never make sense. She will always be searching and questioning and grieving her friend. “There was silence and a new recognition of a perpetually searching quality within me that I had never fully acknowledged. That was it, wasn’t it? The thing that made it so difficult for me not to pick at the edges, the inability to let things be […] That was what made me not be able to let go of the unfairness of what had happened to Ashley.”
Spoiler alert, this book doesn’t leave you with a happy ending (I’m sure you already guessed that). It also really doesn’t leave you with a lot of closure, as Ashley’s alleged killer has yet to face his official trial. But this book is a lot more than a straight-forward true crime book. It’s about Carolyn and Ashley’s friendship and their complex lives, and these aspects are infinite times more important and interesting than the gruesome details of a tragic, untimely death.
TW’s for The Hot One: Graphic descriptions of violence and crime scenes.