Remember Andrew Cunanan? He was the nowhere guy who gunned down Gianni Versace on the steps of the designer’s South Beach villa, sometime in the summer of 1997. (Gary Indiana would be the first to tell you that the exact dates don’t matter.) A great summer, if you were a news junkie or a talking head. Princess Di’s Mercedes crashed at the end of August. Before that, Cunanan kept things lively until he was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on a
Longtime Voice writer Indiana, whose last book, Resentment, novelized the Menendez brothers case, wants to get at something like the truth about Cunanan, something the press neglected to do in that summer’s frenzy. To re-create Cunanan’s state of mind— or a fictionalized version thereof, down to what the killer thought
as he shot Versace— Indiana draws on every source available to him, from hard-news reports to interviews to rumor and hearsay. Not exactly true crime, not quite a novel, Three Month Fever is “a pastiche with which
[Indiana] would like to dissolve both of these unsatisfying modes, concerning as it does a story that is itself a pastiche, and in many respects inextricable from its own hyperbole.”
Because Cunanan ferociously resisted the factual limits of his life, Indiana’s semireported, semifictionalized approach to that life may be the only one that succeeds in making any sense out of it. Born
into middling, soon-to-decline circumstances in San Diego, son of a Filipino father and a Sicilian American mother,
Cunanan liked to say he was Jewish; he sometimes called himself Andrew DeSilva. Smart, he had a reputation for eccentricity in high school, but never quite found his direction. He knew everybody but had no real friends. He did some drugs, patronized pricey restaurants, made the gay-bar circuit. Acquaintances later recalled how he’d pass himself off as the heir to a Philippine plantation fortune, or as an international businessman with shady connections. Indiana sums up Cunanan’s odd effect on people:
When he was in your face he was amazingly in your face, and when he wasn’t, you forgot him. He had a real life and a dream life and a secret life that was half real and half a dream, or perhaps just a little real and mainly a collage of wishes. Some people half-believed Andrew’s stories, if they liked him, . . . and others, who didn’t, thought him an unbearable fraud.
He was vague about where he got his money. Somewhere along the line, the fantasy began to collapse. He owed American Express $40,000. His two closest “friends” and former lovers, Jeffrey Trail and David Madson, had fled to Minneapolis. He followed. Things turned ugly, the specifics impossible to know but frighteningly well imagined by Indiana: a final confrontation in which Cunanan flips out and beats Trail to death with a hammer; the lakeside shooting of David Madson; flight to Chicago, where sometime sex partner Lee Miglin meets a gruesome end. “When he read about it later, Andrew didn’t remember shaving in the sink or leaving any ham bone on Lee’s desk . . . but then the whole episode was blurry, a prime example of consensual encounters run awry, Chicago, [Cunanan] thought, not my kind of town . . . .”
After Versace’s death, the press slavered over Cunanan’s sexual affairs, his hypothetical obsession with fame. So-called experts clamored for air time, wondering aloud whether Cunanan had been an abused child, whether the drugs drove him to kill. A nasty whiff of homophobia hovered over the coverage. “With little or no regard for accuracy, Cunanan’s life was transformed from the somewhat poignant and depressing but fairly ordinary thing it was into a narrative overripe with tabloid evil.”
Given his own quasi-fictional approach, Indiana takes some risks in calling fellow journalists on accuracy. No living soul really knows what, if anything, went through Cunanan’s mind as he pulled the trigger. Accurate or not, Indiana’s re-creation of events has the narrative pull of a good thriller, the sense of things going terribly wrong. Yet the book sometimes slips off balance. Indiana gives the Versace killing almost no ink (maybe he thinks it got too much at the time), and he shows distressingly little sympathy for Cunanan’s most famous victim, who surely didn’t deserve to die any more than the others did. Elsewhere, the chronology can be disorienting, the shifts between viewpoints unsettling. And a good fiction writer wouldn’t have disrupted the white-water pace of the killing spree with transcripts of police interviews, banal down to the last “um.”
It’s enough to make a bloody-minded reader— and Indiana would probably say that we’re all bloody-minded, thanks to our collective media-
driven psychopathy— shout, “Enough with the disruptions already, we want to read about mayhem!” This may well be part of Indiana’s larger project: taunting us with our own desire for front-row seats at the horror show. Three Month Fever hammers home the point that sensationalism feeds on itself: the Versace murder “extricated the public eye from the previous keyhole . . . in effect, solved the JonBenét Ramsey murder case, as that case had finally wrapped up the O.J. Simpson case, which in turn had closed the Menendez case, the Andrew mystery would ultimately be solved by the death of Princess Di, which in turn would achieve ‘closure’ in the form of Monica Lewinsky.” Add Littleton, Colorado, to the list.
Faced with an Andrew Cunanan (or an
Eric Harris or a Dylan Klebold), we demand explanations, a why to complete the who-where-when. Say Cunanan was a fucked-up rent boy who lost it. Blame teenage persecution or violent video games for Littleton. Just remember that “there are deeply criminal people who will never kill anybody, and perfectly nice individuals who one day will run amok with an AK-47. Until a person goes postal, he just looks like part of the landscape.” The truest, most disturbing thing about Three Month Fever is its blunt assertion that there isn’t always an explanation— at least not one you’ll hear on the evening news.