“We often conspire with our memories to make things come out as we want, not as they did.” David Berg, author and lawyer, is an “expert witness” to an event that tore a seam down the middle of his life, so traumatic that he tried for years to repress the memory. This book is the result of his decision to bring the family history into the light.
"Berg’s attempts to find closure for his brother’s assassination comprise the bulk of this dense but readable book. The law sometimes gets it right, as Berg reminds us by recounting some notable trials where he has seen it work as it should, but sometimes it gets it wrong."
Berg, who has written a book (THE TRIAL LAWYER: What It Takes to Win) and many articles about his profession, takes a step back here to the painful years of his childhood. He was raised by a mercurial father, an abusive mother, and his father’s mistress. His father was an upholstery dealer who had a hidden shame. He had gone to medical school and, knowing that his grades were lagging, cheated on his finals and was expelled. So he burdened his boys, David and his older brother Alan, with the onus of becoming what he had not.
David succeeded in a professional career, but Alan became a gambler and a charming vagabond. He eventually got involved in his father’s business, apparently a model door-to-door salesman. He was a master of closing deals, but it was a grubby way to survive. It led him down many wrong paths, and eventually to a back road and a ditch near Galveston, where his body was found after he had been missing for six months.
Berg boldly states, “The first autopsy report I ever read was my brother’s.” Alan was killed by professional hit man Charles Harrelson. Berg’s attempts to find closure for his brother’s assassination comprise the bulk of this dense but readable book. The law sometimes gets it right, as Berg reminds us by recounting some notable trials where he has seen it work as it should, but sometimes the law gets it wrong. Though Harrelson, the father of actor Woody Harrelson, served many years in prison for notorious crimes and died in maximum security, he was acquitted of Alan’s murder.
Sorrow, rage and guilt plagued Berg and his family after Alan’s death. His father could never acknowledge his own role in the events that led to it, his mother was thinking of Alan years later on her deathbed, and his sister never recovered from the tragedy. Berg faults himself for “my ambitious twenty-eight-year-old self running away from those headlines.” But this account has a larger reach. It offers insight on being Jewish and liberal in Texas in the mid-20th century, a survivor’s view of growing up in a highly dysfunctional family, and, most significantly, a lawyer’s take on complex, often lengthy, legal processes. It also examines, peripherally, the personality of psychopathic killer Charles Harrelson and the strange, possibly twisted perceptions of his son, who has famously portrayed a “natural born killer” on the screen.
Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on June 21, 2013