Internal Combustion: The Story of a Marriage and a Murder in the Motor City
September 2006, Jossey-Bass
Three days later, police discovered the mutilated body of Bob Seaman - a successful auto industry engineer, softball coach and passionate collector of vintage Mustangs - in the back of the family's Ford Explorer. As the shackles were placed on her wrists, Nancy Seaman asserted that her husband had been beating her, and she'd killed him in self-defense.
At her trial, two radically different stories emerged. One of the couple's sons, Greg, testified that his father had been abusing his mother for years. The other, Jeff, testified for the prosecution, charging his mother as a cold blooded killer.
Joyce Maynard's chilling work delves beyond the events of the crime itself, to explore the lives of an American family who seemed to have everything. Her exploration of the story led to a year's research in suburban Detroit - but the story she found there will take the reader to the Depression-era farm country of Illinois, the working class neighborhoods of the auto industry in its heyday and even, surprisingly, to a Baptist church in burned-out downtown Detroit. Along the way we meet a Transylvanian forensic pathologist, a beautiful young prosecutor, an old-school police chief, a television news crew hungry for ratings, the softball scorekeeper mom accused of carrying on an affair with the murdered man, and her two shell shocked teenagers, still reeling from the death of their beloved coach, and a mother who has to tell her daughter why her favorite teacher won't be in school any more.
As in Joyce Maynard's previous books - including To Die For, based on a true crime, and her best selling memoir, At Home in the World - Joyce Maynard's themes here involve family secrets, the deep fissures that lie below the surface of the glittering exteriors, and the deep, potentially fatal, fissures in the American Dream.
Part One: Missing Man.
Part Two: Family History.
Part Three: Building the Case.
Part Four: The People Versus Nancy Seaman.
Part Five: Looking for Answers.
About the Author.
Joyce Maynard is the author of several celebrated books, including the novels Baby Love and To Die For, which was made into a major motion picture starring Nicole Kidman, and the memoir At Home in the World. She has been a reporter for the New York Times, a syndicated columnist and commentator on NPR's All Things Considered, and a contributor to O, The Oprah Magazine, More, Redbook, Vanity Fair, and many other publications.
In 2004, respected fourth-grade teacher Nancy Seaman picked up a hatchet and killed her hus-band, semi-retired automobile engineer and executive Bob. Was it self-defense or premeditation? Only Nancy knows; she's serving a life sentence in a Michigan jail. Maynard, no stranger to stories of corruption born of ambition (To Die For, 1992), takes on a tale that offers few conclusions but a host of intriguing questions. The central one: Where does happiness lie? Bob was a man who liked his Detroit Tigers season tickets and working on his vintage Mustangs; Nancy was a polished, proud woman who carefully tended her ideal life in Farmington Hills, a tony suburb of Detroit. They and their two sons, one favoring their mother and the other their father, made up an unhappy clan caught between keeping up appearances and having loving relationships. Maynard devotes the first half of her book to tracking down the Seamans' extended family, locating the roots of their marital problems and detailing the opinions and reactions of friends, coworkers and neighbors. Noting that her work falls under the ethical shadow cast by not just Truman Capote's In Cold Blood but the 2005 film Capote, she drops her detachment and becomes a presence in the story. She resists choosing sides about who was the real victim, Bob or Nancy. At times, she openly admits struggling with her feelings about her own family's dysfunction and divorce. In the end, Maynard finds enough common ground with the Seamans to portray a family broken, but one more familiar than strange.
Painful, intimate and blood-spattered: a gripping true-crime tale. (Kirkus, August 1, 2006)
INTERNAL COMBUSTION is an engrossing tale of a troubled marriage, a dysfunctional family and a horrible act of violence. It is thoroughly readable and just scary enough for a good winter's fireside read. - Bookreporter.com"The sensitivity and insight, both psychological and deeply personal, that Maynard brings to her exploration of this brutal, seemingly unfathomable murder elevate Internal Combustion to a place far above the true crime shelf. Her reporting floors me. Her pacing is seamless, swift, unerring. This book runs like a ‘69 Shelby."
—Mary Roach, author of the best-selling Stiff and Spook
"As relentlessly hypnotic as In Cold Blood. A book that barrels us down a dark stretch of the American Dream, where families fracture, secrets take root, and ‘till death do us part’ takes on a whole new meaning. Joyce Maynard’s masterfully honest storytelling is as illuminating as it is fascinating."
—Jason Roberts, author, A Sense of the World
"In an intricate examination, chock-full of Detroit exotica and murder Americana, Maynard gets as close as she can to the two warring sides of a family still clinging to their opposite versions of secrets, accusations, and violence. A tale so chilly, Motor City should hand out car blankets."
—Maria Flook, author, Invisible Eden and Lux
"One of the great evil-Mommie stories of all time. Part murder mystery, part dysfunctional family story, part self-help book, the subtitle could be: how a hatchet murder taught me to love my children and to accept the terms of my divorce. Nowhere have I seen a better expression of Samuel Beckett’s observation that love is a kind of lethal glue."
—Errol Morris, filmmaker, The Fog of War and The Thin Blue Line