Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Gorgeous Disaster: The Tragic Story of Debra Lafave

If it gets a kid to read, who cares if it's Playboy?

Thank god for the guilty pleasure of Gorgeous Disaster: The Tragic Story of Debra Lafave. From the opening pages I was hooked - I even kept the book in my bag so I could read at stop lights in the was embarrassing. I really didn't want anyone to see me with a poorly written tell-all about a teacher-student sex scandal. Not my usual genre; not a piece I will display on my shelves, and if I die tomorrow, please do not look at my search history - I usually Google things like this, and this, and not this.

Author Owen Lafave - ex-husband of the very beautiful Tampa Bay middle school teacher - means well, and I really believe that. He even includes a chapter on his top seven methods for discouraging teacher impropriety (pg 280). He tries hard to present an objective view, to tell the story of his ex-wife's claim to fame without anger or excuses. In telling story though, he only contributes to her ego, to the salaciousness of the event and the press it gathers. I suspect however, that Debra's ego wasn't the only one inflated by the media storm around the scandal. The author himself includes loads of trite commentary about his own childhood, and a comparison between himself and a famous runaway slave from his hometown (pg 23). Really?

"Judge Walter Heinrich (friends call him "Buzzy") listened to the charges and to the attorney's argument for reducing the $15,000 bail. The judge announced he was setting bail at $5,000, a gesture that showed he had little concern Debbie would try to flee. Then he gave her some fatherly advice about dealing with the media. " (pg 201)

Do you care what "friends call" the judge? Is it necessary to spell out the significance of a reduction in bail? Maybe most readers need help to make the mental jump. But I think it's unnecessary verbiage. I mean, get to the sex! Let's not kid ourselves, that's really what we're here for, isn't it? Oh well, good for Owen for including the mundane details - otherwise he might as well be writing for Maxim.
One of the things I love about reading is teasing out the cringe-worthy coincidences that make you roll your eyes, but Owen Lafave just doesn’t allow me the pleasure. He spells it out much too clearly. On describing one of Debra's meetings with her student: "They arrived on schedule at the designated rendezvous spot, Porter's Nursery...(I won't even comment on the decision to set up for sex with her teen lover by picking up the boy's cousin at a "nursery.") (pg 156). Sigh. But Owen, you just did.

With chapter names like "Busted!" (pg 165), you might think the entire text was one big freshman English paper. But I give credit where credit is due: my favorite moment from the memoir was the explanation of intention behind a fantastic quote from Debbie's attorney on page 246: " 'To place an attractive young woman into that kind of hellhole is like putting a piece of raw meat in with the lions. I'm not sure that Debbie would be able to survive.' Many people who heard the statement understood him to be saying that a gorgeous woman should never be sent to prison. If you're beautiful enough, the laws and the rules of society don't apply to you, he seemed to be arguing.
In fact, I believe the attorney's remark was calculated and extremely cleaver, in being addressed to one single person.
The victim.
Without compelling testimony from Jack, a jury would be much less likely to convict. Debbie's attorney would have found out how enormously popular Debbie had been as a teacher and how much this one boy had been attracted to her. It stood to reason that the boy was suffering at the idea that his testimony could send Debbie to prison.
'I'm not sure that Debbie would be able to survive.' No matter what pressure the boy was under to testify, a statement like that would go a long way to make him change his mind, or even to take the stand and intentionally botch his testimony. If this really was an intentional maneuver on the part of the attorney, it was brilliant. "

Why, oh why is this the only time we get this kind of thoughtful commentary?!


  1. I would do almost anything to talk with this woman. I think it would be very enlightning if anyone can put me in touch I'd be eternally grateful

  2. Sorry Jakester - my only connection is the hardcover I picked up in the clearance bin at the store...