The Death of Donna Whalen

The Death of Donna Whalen

Book - 2010
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When Donna Whalen is stabbed thirty-one times in her home on Empire Avenue in St. John's, her friends, family, and neighbours believe the culprit to be her abusive boyfriend, Sheldon Troke. But the evidence is circumstantial, the testimonies tainted by personal bias and attempts at deception. Police and prosecutors face a daunting challenge, and the course of justice, with all its intricacies and failings, takes many unpredictable turns before the truth is finally revealed.

In this extraordinary novel, Michael Winter has mined the records of Sheldon's trial--thousands of pages of court transcripts, police wiretaps, newspaper reports, private letters and diary entries--and distilled their raw, naked truth into a mesmerizing work of documentary fiction that captures the myriad voices of the people involved.

Publisher: Toronto : Hamish Hamilton Canada, c2010.
ISBN: 9780670066636
Characteristics: ix, 272 p. ;,24 cm.


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Mar 06, 2015

that was a diszaster
thanex for writting the book anyways

ColinSick Jan 16, 2014

Quite an enjoyable read. The author captured the characters flawlessly and while people had difficulty with the dialect as portrayed on the page, the style rings true. As interesting as the testimony of the various characters was, I particularly enjoyed how the motivations behind each characters version of events tended to muddy the legal waters. No one comes off looking particularly heroic. All in all this documentary fiction was quite a feat for Mr. Winter. Kudos.

Oct 31, 2011

This story is written in 'documentary fiction' style as it goes into detail from different points of view on the events and persons involved with the death of Donna Whalen (based on true events) that happened in Atlantic Canada through interviews, court documents, wiretaps and newpaper articles. It is an interesting approach to present the story and issues, while the speech and grammar was a little hard to grasp (which I am sure it is local linguistics at work in written format). Also glad there was an epilogue to give us more insight to the story.

dtatton Jan 20, 2011

This book was well reviewed but I just couldn't stand the way in which it was written. As a biographical fiction it was based largely on real life events with fictional dialogue added in. Unfortunately I disliked how the author kept many of the details of the story in the short incomplete sentences of police reports, that aspect of the book was just too distracting for me to enjoy it.

Nov 04, 2010

The writing was impossible to read. Bad punctuation, and use of past/present/future words.
"She come in the house"
Slightly interesting story, but not enough for me to finish the book.
I read 30 pages and found it hard to understand what he was saying for the writing methods.

Oct 25, 2010

A failed experiment. Winter wrote this in the third person, in Newfoundland dialect, and leaving out most apostrophes. I was able to get used to the dialect, but the storytelling was confusing at best and lost all meaning at worst. I slogged it out until pg. 160 or so and then gave up and read the Epilogue. An interesting story ruined by a failed method of writing.

Oct 12, 2010

A brief synopsis of "The Death of Donna Whalen" would seem simple on the surface, and would also seem to separate swiftly those who would read such a story from those who would not. Based on a true case, the story is about a spirited but troubled young woman who meets a premature and very violent end. Her troubles prior to her death included dealing in behaviours and with people who were truly or reputed to be dangerous. It would seem clear who was responsible for her death. End of a cautionary tale, grimly told ...?

Not at all. Drawing on a daunting array of records from the real-life trial of the suspected murderer - court transcripts, police wiretaps, police and news reports, letters, diary excerpts and more - author Michael Winter has distilled them into a singular account of a murder case and its attendant tragedy that is not at all what it seems. Its transcendent approach to capturing this story should and will also draw in readers to the book who might normally eshew "true crime" fare.

Winter's innovation is that he has created an unlikely Greek chorus out of the voices that emerge from the towering stack of material that apparently lived at the back of his closet for a number of the years during which he grappled with how to tell the story. Further, out of the cacophony of confused, fearful and duplicitous voices telling their versions of Donna Whalen's story and fate, Winter forges a distinct voice of his own. The alchemy is that he takes first person accounts, compresses them, and sensitively and acutely converts them to the third person, while still retaining accents, inflections and resonances that create an unforgettable collective voice that haunted this reader in her dreams. The result is simultaneously intimate, distancing and authentic, making the story that much more compelling. The final effect also likely replicates the maddening conundrum that law enforcement, investigators and ultimately justice faced and struggled with in arriving at their flawed conclusions.

Many of the relationships between voices and figures in the story are not explained until the end of the book. While this creates some confusion, it also adds to the effect of there not seeming to be a single, reliable voice telling Donna's story. The reader struggles with her own trust and skepticism - which can change in waves from character to character, and from moment to moment with given characters - that is almost visceral, and therefore that much more intensely engaging.

Winter himself, as well as reviewers, have cited Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" as a point of reference and comparison for "The Death of Donna Whalen." While "Donna" is equally groundbreaking in form, the book is really closer in spirit, form and voice to Kenneth J. Harvey's Inside. "Donna"'s collective voice is as pervasive, haunting and mercurial as "Inside"'s beleagured Myrden.

Winter as author and narrative voice is often charmingly, gregariously present in his previous books, such as This All Happened and The Architects Are Here. His presence in "The Death of Donna Whalen" is deceptively influential, but also respectfully circumspect. It will be interesting to see what "Donna" does or does not do with his voice in future works. Even if "Donna" stands alone in his oeuvre ... well, it truly stands alone, in every good sense of the phrase.

Oct 04, 2010

I found this book fascinating. Winter is trying something new. It is about a tough segment of society we don't read a lot about in fiction. He uses material from actual court transcripts. He talks of having "curated" the materials. It takes a while to get used to the third person but he didn't want the text to be full of "I, I, I."

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