The name Charles Manson is pretty loaded in the American Psyche. His infamous murder spree is the stuff of legend. In fact, serial killers such as Manson have captured the morbid fascination of so many people over time. From Jack the Ripper to the Zodiac Killer to Manson and more, something simply fascinates people about what these people did and what could drive them to take so many human lives. In the wake of his recent death, Manson’s crimes have been fresh in my mind. And just on time, I found an account from someone who could not have been closer to Manson. One of the members of his “Family”.
Dianne Lake was the youngest member of the group, being involved from ages fourteen to sixteen. She was involved with the Family pretty early on, and was part of it until they were arrested following the murders. While Lake was not involved in the actual murders, she witnessed how the Family went from being a peace and love hippie commune to being a cult trying to start a race war. How did it come to that, and why would anyone stay with Manson or fail to call the authorities?
Now, I don’t intend to excuse any of their actions, nor does Lake. Lake testified against Manson and the Family in court. However, I feel that Member of the Family is a fascinating and insightful view on how good people get coerced to do horrible things.
I’m not going to go into a lot of the details that Lake goes into. I would advise readers that are sensitive to descriptions of physical or psychological abuse, rape, drug use, or similar themes to be prepared. The details are pretty horrifying. But I could just feel the fear that permeated life in the Family. Member of the Family is a step-by-step case study on how people are brainwashed into cults.
Not only that, but Lake was in a textbook abusive relationship with Manson, albeit much more extreme than what we would normally consider one. Manson would oscillate between being loving and tender to being violent and angry. He was skilled at making all of the young women in his “Family” feel trapped, either by isolation, fear, or loyalty. All three of those things existed in tandem, and I’m a bit surprised that Lake was able to grow into a well-adjusted woman after she escaped their influence when the cult was arrested.
Member of the Family was heartbreaking, raw, and inspirational. It can’t have been easy for Lake to recount all of those painful memories. I don’t know if I would have been able to physically go back to where it all happened and stand there once again. But also, I feel like her putting her experiences out there in all their unfiltered rawness could really help the world as a whole. Maybe someone is realizing that their partner or spouse is starting to turn abusive and they can get out while they can. Maybe someone reads this book and realizes that a group that they are turning to for acceptance is going to lead them towards a path of self destruction. Lake outlines every red flag that she missed along the way, and I truly feel that she’s going to shine a light on the red flags that some people are missing now. All in all, as difficult as this book was to read, it is valuable. I think that everybody has something to learn from it, and I couldn’t recommend it more wholeheartedly.