Obituary Note: Rebecca Godfrey

Rebecca Godfrey

Rebecca Godfrey, "who mapped the complex landscape of teenage transgression with exquisite detail and precise language in a novel, The Torn Skirt, and later in a nonfiction book, Under the Bridge, about a murder that became a cause célèbre in Canada," died October 3, the New York Times reported. She was 54.

In 1997, Godfrey was researching a novel in her hometown, Victoria, B.C., Canada, when she caught a glimpse of the teenagers, called "The Shoreline Six," who had been charged with the murder of 14-year-old Reena Virk. She became captivated by the case, deciding it would be the subject of her next book. Over time, Godfrey gained the trust of those involved. 

Nearly a decade in the making, Under the Bridge "was published in 2005 and drew comparisons to Truman Capote's In Cold Blood," the Times noted. It was reissued in 2019 with an introduction by author Mary Gaitskill, who called the book "a remarkable piece of investigative journalism," adding that Godfrey "allows us to almost see what is essentially unseeable."

"Rebecca was like a deeply rooted plant that moved with the water; it seems fragile but just try pulling it up," Gaitskill told the Times. "She was delicate but strong and deep."

Godfrey's first novel, The Torn Skirt, was "about a 16-year-old misfit and rebel named Sara who goes looking for trouble and, terrifyingly, finds it," eerily foreshadowing the world in which the author would immerse herself for Under the Bridge.

At her death, Godfrey had nearly completed a new novel, Peggy, based on the early life of Peggy Guggenheim, "including an affair she had with Samuel Beckett in Paris in the late 1930s," the Times wrote. Editor David Ebershoff said Godfrey left copious notes about how she wanted to finish the manuscript, which is scheduled to be published by Random House next summer.

Hulu will begin production next month on a limited series based on Under the Bridge. Writer and director Quinn Shephard collaborated with Godfrey for two and a half years to adapt the story for TV and both are credited as executive producers.

Although the book was written largely from the points of view of each of the people involved with the case, Shephard reworked Under the Bridge to make Godfrey the show's heroine. "Rebecca allowed me to embrace the rebellious, sensitive and mischievous spirit she had at the age when she wrote this," Shephard said. "I wonder if at the time, when she was in it, it was hard to see how special the story of her writing this truly was. She would often say that looking back, she wondered how she was able to do it, withstand all of that darkness for so many years."

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