"Nice people don't go around getting themselves knifed to death," O.J. Simpson writes in If I Did It, the memoir/murder confession that Beaufort Books will publish in September. The context is not what you think. O.J. is arguing with his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson about some "marginal characters" Nicole has befriended, one of whom was stabbed fatally in a rumored drug deal gone sour. But the words leap off the page nonetheless. This is a book whose inadvertent revelations about the author's character rival its deliberate revelations about the author's deeds.
Yes, I've read it. Sales proceeds will go not to O.J.—whose plan to publish with HarperCollins went south last year when Rupert Murdoch got cold feet and pulped the book—but rather to the family of Ron Goldman, which seized the manuscript as a down payment on a $33.5 million civil judgment against O.J. for killing Goldman along with Nicole. The one-time star running back was acquitted of this crime (erroneously, according to If I Did It and the dictates of common sense) in a criminal trial 12 years ago. Some of the proceeds from If I Did It will go to the Ron Goldman Foundation for Justice, a nonprofit set up to help victims of violent crime. So, now that there's no danger of enriching O.J., can we please all calm down and assess this book's merit, or rather—since it was dictated to a ghostwriter by a seemingly unhinged double murderer—its value?
The Goldman family has tinkered a little with the graphic presentation of the book's title. In HarperCollins' original jacket design, the word If appeared in white and the words I Did It appeared in red. The effect was to emphasize the hypothetical nature—the iffness—of the exercise. That was in keeping with O.J.'s public stance that the book was a "fictional creation" thrown together to pay the bills. The jacket design of the Codex Goldman does the precise opposite. Here, the word If is shrunk to the point of near-invisibility and tucked into the I in I Did It. The effect is to virtually retitle the book I Did It. To drive the point home, the Goldmans have added the subtitle Confessions of the Killer.
These alterations are truer not only to the facts of the case but also to the manuscript itself. The narrator of If I Did It introduces his story not as an exercise in counterfactual speculation but rather as the God's honest truth. Indeed, the phrase, "to be honest" appears in this book no fewer than 29 times. By comparison, O.J.'s much-touted disavowal of the book's truthfulness surfaces exactly twice. An "author's note" up front reads, in full: "If I did it, this is what happened." And the narrative in the chapter titled "The Night In Question" pauses briefly for the following public service announcement: "Now picture this—and keep in mind, this is hypothetical." That dispensed with, O.J. relates with gusto some gruesome details about how he killed Nicole and the man he believed to be her lover. (Lest the reader suspect the Goldman family of editing out O.J.'s more forceful declarations of caveat emptor, be assured that I'm working off the HarperCollins version, over which the Goldmans had no control.)
"Sit back, people," O.J. writes on the book's first page. "The things I know, and the things I believe, you can't even imagine."
And I'm going to share them with you. Because the story you know, or think you know—that's not the story. Not even close. This is one story the whole world got wrong.
What did we get wrong, O.J.? Not, he explains, that he killed Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. That's a sideshow! What we failed to grasp was that Nicole Simpson was no innocent victim. "Nicole was on the fast-track to hell," O.J. explains with what little calm he can muster, "and she was determined to take me and the kids with her." The woman was a drug abuser, a tantrum-thrower, and a slut. She was also a ravishing blond beauty. She was a disturber of her long-suffering ex-husband's peace of mind. "That woman is going to be the death of me," O.J. remembers thinking one hour before he killed her. The bitch had it coming.
Nice people don't go around getting themselves knifed to death.
Superficially, If I Did It is chiefly an indictment of Nicole's character and only incidentally the story of her murder. It's easy to understand why its publication has upset Nicole's family. By reciting the details of his marriage history, O.J. is, in some ways, committing spousal abuse all over again. According to O.J., Nicole was pathologically fickle in her affections and given to making outrageous demands. After their marriage ended, she slept with O.J.'s bosom pal Marcus Allen, then told O.J. about it ("He pretends to be your friend, and then he fools around with me") and even asked how to get rid of him ("He keeps calling me"). She asked O.J. to find a room in his house for flaky Kato Kaelin, who had been living in her house rent-free in exchange for errands and babysitting. He did so. Then she hounded O.J. to evict Kato, even though she no longer lived there. (She came by frequently with the children, though, "to hang out by the pool and to torment me with her unhappiness.") Also when Nicole wasn't living there, she hit O.J.'s maid, Michele, then told him about that. ("I couldn't help it. I hate her attitude.")
I have no idea how much of this is true. Allen denied in the civil suit against O.J. that he'd ever had sex with Nicole and alleged that during the criminal trial, O.J. had asked him to impeach Nicole's character by saying they'd been lovers. On the other hand, Jeffrey Toobin reports in The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpsonthat Allen had "an on-and-off affair with Nicole" and that some of Nicole's friends believed that was partly what drove O.J. to kill her. All one can conclude is that O.J. and Nicole had a turbulent relationship, especially after the breakup of their marriage, and that Nicole isn't here to quarrel about who was the predator and who the prey.
Where a documentary record exists, O.J.'s version of events holds up poorly. For instance, O.J. relates a late-night quarrel with Nicole while the two of them were married that ended with Nicole calling the police. According to O.J., Nicole flew into a jealous rage because she believed he'd bought expensive earrings for another woman. "She took a swing at me and I grabbed her arm and literally dragged her out of bed and pulled her toward the door." Then "I pushed her into the corridor and locked her out" of the bedroom. She came back with a key, and he wrestled it from her hand and pushed her out again. End of story. Next thing O.J. knows, the cops are there. Nicole goes downtown and gets photographed. The police report, O.J. tells us, says there are bruises on her face. "I didn't hit her," O.J. writes, "but it's possible she hurt herself while we were scuffling." Even without consulting other sources, one can tell this is an obvious lie.
Now let's take a look at that police report. One detail O.J. left out of his account, we learn, is that Nicole yelled out to the police, "He's going to kill me, he's going to kill me," then repeated it a third time as an LAPD officer comforted her. Simpson doesn't deny this happened; he simply airbrushes it out. In the book, O.J. says he was flabbergasted ("What the hell was she talking about?") when Nicole told the cops they'd been called to the house eight times previously. In the police report, both Nicole and O.J. affirm that the cops have been called to the house eight times previously, Nicole to argue that the police should arrest O.J., and O.J. to argue that it's no big deal, this happens all the time, nobody has ever made a federal case about our little spats before and therefore neither should you. Again, Simpson doesn't dispute this in his book; he just leaves it out. A final detail missing from O.J.'s account is that when the officer tried to arrest him he jumped into his Bentley and sped off. Next time it would be a white Bronco.
Is O.J. deliberately deceiving his readers? Perhaps. More likely, though, he is telling us what he wants to believe, which is that Nicole was a crazy woman who tormented and demonized her ex-husband. This is worth knowing, because it's almost certainly what O.J. believed when he killed Nicole. It's why he killed her, even though much and possibly all of it was a delusion. "Nicole was the enemy," O.J. realizes as he leaves for her house with a knife in the car. "I'm tired of being the understanding ex-husband. I have my kids to think about." By now, we've entered the portion of the narrative O.J. has demarcated "hypothetical." But it's much more persuasive than much of what O.J. has previously characterized as the gospel truth.
He did it because he had to. He did it for the kids.
To read the second half of this review, click here.
[Update, Aug. 31: Sharlene Martin, the Goldman family's agent for the book, informs me by e-mail that the book cover described and reproduced here has since been replaced by another design that hasn't yet been made public.]