For four years, reporters swarmed the ancient Italian town of Perugia, wrestling one another like dogs to be the first to break each rumor in the titillating murder case of British woman Meredith Kercher. In the vapid analysis of most news bites, headline painted roommate Amanda Knox as a perfect girl-next-door with a dark side: a vengeful seductress killer.
Waiting to be Heard is Knox’s long-awaited response to the clichéd, sexist vision the world saw of the quirky exchange student who left Seattle six years ago to immerse herself in Italian language and culture.
There is little in her memoir that will change the mind of anyone convinced of Knox’s guilt. That reader will likely see only proof that “Foxy Knoxy” is a masterful liar and manipulator. However, to someone who is at least open to the possibility of Knox’s innocence, Waiting provides answers to that persistent question, “If she was innocent, why did she act so weird after the murder?” In fact, Knox supporters have been arguing since she was first put on trial that there is no clear or “correct” way to process such a shocking event. In Waiting, Knox herself finally describes how any bright and curious twenty-year-old woman might act in such unimaginable circumstances.
But that makes the book rather uncomfortable. If we assume Knox is innocent—as I do—then we shouldn’t have an inherent right to a front-row view of her sexual desires and personal habits. In the book, Knox comes off as just an ordinary young woman entering adulthood (or as she recently put it to Diane Sawyer, “the adventure of selfhood”). She spends the first part of the book describing behavior studying abroad that seems simply youthful. But Knox has an undertone of mea culpa throughout her narrative as she continues to brace herself for more scathing criticism.
“I became the embodiment of everyone’s worst fears, or fantasies about a sexually aggressive woman. I couldn’t deny that I’d hooked up with a couple of guys in Perugia… . But I hadn’t sought out men because I was obsessed with sex. I was experimenting with my sexuality. My reaction to being characterized as a femme fatale was Me? Really? Of all people!”
In her descriptions of the events that led to her prosecution, the most notable aspect of Knox’s writing is the graciousness and benefit of the doubt she offers others. She describes the terrible consequences she endured precisely because she gave the benefit of the doubt to the wrong people at the wrong time, but her defense comes with a sense of measured reserve. Knox has the right to be very, very angry toward her accusers—who alleged Satan worshiping and drug-fueled orgies—but instead she comes off as self-critical and defensive.
However, something happens when Knox breaks free from her careful recounting of the murder and trial and tells instead of her growth in prison. Here, Waiting offers a thoughtful—albeit too brief—coming of age memoir within the larger story. As she considers how a life in prison would affect her relationship with her family, Knox writes:
“I desperately didn’t want to be forgotten. But more than worrying about the logistics of such a life, I was terrified that we were coming to a point where we wouldn’t understand one another … If enough time passed, we’d be speaking two different languages – and it would have nothing and everything to do with their English and my Italian.”
In these sorts of insights, which balance intellectual analysis with deep emotion, we get a glimpse of Amanda Knox the writer, not the suspect. Once she finally frees herself from the burden of being on the defensive in this tragic story of violence and loss, she has the makings of a nuanced chronicler of human experience and the complicated heart. Waiting won’t bring about an end to the hysteria around Knox; perhaps, though, it will mark the beginning of a promising young writer’s new journey.