Reading Without a Doubt, Marcia Clark’s long-awaited take on the O.J. Simpson trial, is not unlike sitting through Kurt Russell’s new yuppie-in-distress thriller, Breakdown. It’s not especially original or well written, but by the last page you’ll feel as burnt out, beaten up, and victimized as Kurt, or Marcia herself. You’ll also feel strangely exhilarated.
Without a Doubt suffers from its late arrival — months after similar tomes by Johnnie Cochran, Christopher Darden, and New Yorker writer Jeffrey Toobin. It doesn’t help that the book, co-written with the usually excellent Teresa Carpenter (Missing Beauty), reads as if Clark had dictated it from her car phone (”Duh” is a favorite phrase), while lurching from lane to lane. Clark starts with five turgid chapters about the case, then abruptly launches into her life story. After barely a chapter, she suddenly returns to the trial.
But if you’ve made it this far, there’s a payoff more rewarding than any of the ”revelations” about the case, which now seem dated. Even though Clark omits details about her private life (she tells of a teenage rape but won’t confirm whether she and Darden were lovers and only briefly mentions her current boyfriend, blues musician Mitchell Kashmar), Without a Doubt becomes a subconscious journey of self-discovery. Tough prosecutor Clark, accustomed to victory, finds out she might not be as different from battered wife Nicole Brown Simpson as she originally thought.
Clark, of course, was supposed to be a feisty survivor who took no guff. The exact opposite, say, of Nicole Simpson. And certainly, she went the 372-day distance of the Simpson trial with grit and flair. Yet her recounting of the Simpson saga — in which she portrays herself at the mercy of sloppy detectives, slick defense lawyers, a spineless judge, a rabid press, and her ex-husband, who sued for custody of their two children mid-trial — reads like The Perils of Marcia.
Clark’s struggle between superwoman and victim is most apparent when it comes to her attitude toward Nicole. At first, she calls her a ”rich man’s wife, someone to whom I couldn’t relate.” One hundred pages later, however, Clark reveals the harrowing tale of life with her first husband, Gaby, an Israeli backgammon player, with whom she had violent battles. But Clark denies she was a battered wife, even using the same word O.J. Simpson once used to describe his fights with Nicole. ”We wrestled,” she writes. ”It wasn’t right to let Gaby take the rap when I’d done so much provoking. I was not a battered woman! I was not a victim!”
By the end of the book, however, Clark, furious at seeing Judge Lance Ito repeatedly kowtow to Cochran, dismayed over the media’s relentless scrutiny of her appearance, and newly haunted by her own two disastrous marriages, better understands the pressures Nicole faced: not only from Simpson but from her own family, which turned a blind eye to her problems. Nicole had become someone whose life had begun to ”resonate with my own.” Worn down by 18-hour days, stress, and illness, Clark finally acknowledges that ”the world is so far more sexist than anybody…dreamed.”
Unlike Nicole, Clark is, as she points out, ”still here” at the end of her ordeal. (She has left the DA’s office but hasn’t announced new plans.) She likens it to someone walking out of the wreckage of a 747. In the final pages, she no longer sounds like a victim. Thanks in part to Nicole, Clark seems to be pulling her own strings. B-