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The New York Times
Two Went Out, One Came Back
By Bruce Barcott
Kersten...tells the story of Coughlin and Kodikian with quiet authority, lending unexpected dignity to the whole affair. The result is a ruminative, wholly absorbing book.
By Richard Linnett
Jason is a sharp reporter and storyteller and this, his first book, is not just a page-turning true crime story, it’s a brooding meditation on the desolation of the desert and of the pair of privilidged young men who got lost out there.
Kersten demonstrates, in his first book, good journalism and a flair for the true crime genre. He carefully details the beginnings of the young men’s friendship and the pull of the open road that led the Kerouac-loving Kodikian and the rugged, adventurous Coughlin to attempt what should have been an easy journey.
National Geographic Adventure
By Anthony Brandt
…in his first book, Kersten has done a nice job of filling it out, interviewing the lawyers, the sheriff, everybody involved except Kodikian himself, who refused requests for interviews. Kersten forgoes a lot of moral pondering. He leaves that to the reader, who can’t help wondering: What if that had been me? What would I have done? Could I have said no to my best friend, who was suffering so much? The courage not to? Kersten takes the story through the trial and the verdict and the aftermath. It’s one hell of a fascinating ride.
Kersten crafts the unlucky duo's story into a vivid text, despite Kodikian's decision not to grant him an interview. The author provides all manner of historical background for the main characters and the landscapes they passed through. He spells out all the legal ramifications, including forays into involuntary intoxication and the euthanasia defense, and his courtroom scenes are elegant condensations. His narrative builds with the same impetus that the incident developed as it evolved from a small newswire clip to a national story, yet the tone remains steady and even-keeled. Kersten lays before readers the elements of suspicion-possible conflict over a woman, a burnt sleeping bag, a can of uneaten beans-that led some to conclude it wasn't really a mercy killing and explains with clarity the reasons that propelled the judge to hand down a sentence of 15 years suspended to 2,though Kodikian's reputation will be forever tattered from the case's tabloid treatment. Quiet literary journalism that gives these grim circumstances the eerie, twilight quality of tragedy.
Was it murder or a mercy killing? In the end, Kersten's direct prose creates a very real scene, one so unfathomable that even the reader armed with both Kodikian's version and other speculations can't help but feel for all involved in this perplexing and tragic scenario.
Kersten brilliantly dissects the nuances of young America. Dating, friendship, neighbourhood and upbringing, the rituals of college bonds, graduation, and the overwhelming lure of the open road. All contribute to and feed the strange events that played out between two men in Rattlesnake Canyon. We will likely never know exactly what happened, but this deeply unsettling account fascinates and appals nonetheless.