Books: On the trail of a psycho killer
The death of Gianni Versace lifted the lid on a crazy world of wealth and fame.
Saturday 28 August 1999
by Gary Indiana
Quartet, pounds 10, 254pp
THE MURDER of Gianni Versace outside his Miami mansion in 1997 left us many disturbingly pseudo- religious images. There were the Christ-like abandoned sandals at his gate, the martyr's blood on the marble steps and (you couldn't make this up) the slain body of a dove killed by a ricochet of the same bullets that hit the fashion designer. What did it all mean? Those TV pictures of Versace's lily-festooned funeral, at which the Princess of Wales hugged the puffy-faced cherub Elton John, was in hindsight an ominously prescient moment in her own journey towards apotheosis.
Gary Indiana is a magnificently cantankerous novelist always drawn to the dark side of the American dream (see his seminal Rent Boy and thoroughly unpleasant, brilliant Resentment). He has consistently understood the heartless demi-monde from which killer Andrew Cunanan sprang. There are the desperate badly- parented small-town boys who will do anything to escape from their dull backgrounds, the twinks living off the chequebooks of older gay men, wanting to do something "artistic": the gay world is full of these Tom Ripley types.
Yet gay "groups" went on TV to distance themselves from Cunanan and his killing spree (he murdered two gay friends before journeying to Miami to turn the gun on Versace). The killing seemed to conform to any number of old "gay equals moral disorder" prejudices. The reaction was predictable, including that from gay men. Indiana sourly notes that "one fag... said that he'd like to see Andrew hung by his testicles", while another claimed Cunanan "was not one of us" - as if you can somehow be blackballed by the gay community.
For the truth was that Cunanan had not only killed King Fag; he had killed the Emperor of Conspicuous Consumption. He had attacked the dollar. Versace was the man who said he would "hug himself" with joy after spending three million dollars on a shopping spree.
What was their history, exactly? The only known time when Cunanan met Versace was in October 1990, briefly, at a staging of a Strauss opera in San Francisco. Versace apprently said: "I know you, Lake Como, non?" to his future killer. It is a phrase oddly pregnant with all manner of classical and romantic freight. One can almost imagine Byron saying it to the figure of Death at Missolonghi, or Catullus thus propositioning a rent boy in Ancient Rome. Versace's relationship with Cunanan still remains shrouded in mystery.
Indiana drops in passing the extraordinary fact in passing that he has personally known five murderers ("two of them documented serial killers") before they killed. He notes that all of them - contrary to tabloid lore - behaved like ordinary people. In contrast, Versace and many of the famous people he mixed with were much more obvious sociopaths.
The media coverage of the murder and the awesomely inaccurate TV films about it smudged such subtleties. The idea that Versace and the superficial world he represented was innately sociopathic is completely absent from these treatments.
Indiana draws on many sources, such as his own interviews with Cunanan's friends and his research into the killer's Filipino-Sicilian parentage. He reproduces Cunanan's postcards home, news reports and police reports, finally creating imaginative reconstructions of the crucial events. Yet Cunanan himself remains a strangely vague and insubtantial figure.
I have always had the sneaking suspicion that the fiction of Bret Easton Ellis is actually pretty accurate about a certain level of US media culture. Cunanan is an Easton Ellis character, pure and unadulterated: the Xanax- popping Judas to the Shopping Christ, the Amex Psycho who bought a copy of Kenneth Clark's The Romantic Rebellion mere hours before he slew the fashion messiah. There is everything ancient and everything new here; it's a story as old as the hills (Sicilian assassin hits Prince of Milan), and as crooked and as modern as a quakeproof highway through LA.
Gary Indiana's book is a work of startling, innovative daring, but I wonder how many people will be able to stomach the profound ambiguities which it throws up. My prescription, however, is that they should try.
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes, may now face death penalty
- 2 Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
- 3 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 4 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
- 5 Spiritual leader allegedly manipulated 400 men into removing testicles to be 'closer to God'
Poldark star Heida Reed says show is not that racy: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
Broadchurch series 3: David Tennant and Olivia Colman to return for third season, ITV confirms
Harris' List of Covent Garden Ladies: Georgian guide to London sex workers acquired by Wellcome Collection
House of Cards season 3: Claire Underwood is based on an eagle, says Robin Wright
Game of Thrones season 5 spoilers: What we can expect according to George RR Martin's books
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut