William Morrow | 2018
Opening Crime: Bondage Cabin in the Woods
Main Psychopath: Toss-up between the pervert and the author
Plot Truthy-ness: Dear Diary…
This is the weirdest “true crime” novel I’ve ever read.
First, because it’s mostly a memoir about someone who was not involved in any crime at all. And second, because the crime is an attempted crime. Spoiler alert, I guess? While I’m sure it was traumatizing for the women involved, in the context of a true-crime novel, nothing happened that could fill up an entire book. And what’s weirder, the author uses the attempted crime against someone else to question-plague herself for twenty+ years about why no one ever tried to kidnap and rape her.
Like, I just…
In the ’90s, tennis was at peak popularity with the one-percenters. That included Piper Weiss, who at 14, was a Manhattan Upper-Eastsider à la Gossip Girl, and was training under Gary Wilensky, the premier private tennis coach.
Wilensky was known for being close with his young female students – sending them birthday cakes, Valentines and calling them regularly for personal conversations. I guess, in the ’90s, people weren’t really aware of what “grooming” was, nor had the knowledge base to point to what Wilensky was doing as beyond odd, more like pedophile psycho behaviour.
There was one family, however, the Rhodes, who felt Wilensky was seriously crossing a line. Their daughter, Jennifer, trained under Gary for eighteen months until they fired him for his creepy attention to Jennifer – constantly sending her cards and gifts. Little did they know, Gary was full-on obsessed with Jennifer.
On April 23, 1993, after a tennis match near Albany, NY, Jennifer and her mother arrived at their motel. Suddenly, a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt and brandishing a cattle prod emerged from the dark and attacked Jennifer and her mother. Mrs. Rhodes fought back hard, pulling the man off of her daughter. Jennifer managed to get away and started screaming for someone to help, to call 911.
The attacker then pulled a semi-automatic assault rifle on the two women, but so much attention had been stirred up at the motel, that the man got spooked and sped off in a white Lincoln. Two hours later, police officers spotted the suspect vehicle and began closing in, eventually cornering the car behind a store. As officers approached, the suspect put his gun to his head and killed himself.
It was Gary Wilensky.
During their investigation, authorities found a cabin in the woods, two hours north of Albany, where Wilensky had stocked more sex and bondage gear than anyone could need in one lifetime. Wilensky had paid the lease in advance for one year, leading police to believe he was intending to keep Jennifer there for that amount of time. And then longer? Maybe he’d eventually kill her? No one knows. Also found in the cabin were night-vision goggles, stealth surveillance equipment, a bank of TV monitors connected to cameras around the property monitoring all four corners, wigs and new women’s clothing intended for Jennifer. He’d also sealed the cabin, boarding up windows and putting serious locks on the doors.
At his home in Manhattan, police found a plethora of lists. Everyone loves a list! One of the last notes he wrote said, “Go to the ammo store, get heavy tape, get rope, get chains, get long knives, get security system, get sexy nightwear.”
I know it’s not funny, but it’s also funny. Get sexy nightwear has me rolling!! The fucking DELUSION of this man! To think Jennifer would give two shits about sexy nightwear when she’s being held as a sex slave?! FUCKING. NUTS. Who was it for? Her or him? What even is sexy nightwear for men? Something silk? *shivers*
Police also found a bondage porno titled Jennifer’s Nightmare.
As someone who is very interested in true crime, this case – though it didn’t pan out the way Gary wanted – is still royally fucked up psychologically and was 100% the reason I wanted to read this novel.
So, colour me bummed to find out that this novel treats the creepy psychology and attempted crimes of Gary Wilensky as secondary to the author’s teenage angst and diary-like recollections of her childhood growing up rich. Fucking spare me.
And honestly, Wilensky’s crime and death weren’t even secondary, but more like a footnote. Everything I told you about him I learned from googling him after reading the book. You can find much more information about him from a Newsweek article published in 1993 than you can from this book.
Wilensky’s attempted crime is really just an excuse for Weiss to talk about herself. About 90% of the book is about her, but it comes without any real timeline, which I found somewhat hard to follow conceptually. It’s mostly just a mishmash of meandering memories from Weiss’ perspective – like the different penises she saw or how many times she rode in Wilensky’s car. It was – and I cannot stress this enough – fucking boring.
Obviously, Weiss knew Wilensky. She trained under him, had a friendship with him that she felt was special. She felt he “got her” more than any other adult and was oblivious to the fact that Wilensky was grooming her in all his attempts to connect with her. Because she was 14. Why would she have a clue? She just thought he was a good friend who gave her cards, gifts and was someone she could confide in. I remember being around 12 and giving out my bra size to random men in chatrooms who asked. And I had no idea that was fucking terrible until years later. A/S/L, bitches. Shit was different in the ’90s and early 2000s.
Weiss wasn’t exactly traumatized, but if it was you, your friendship with a bondage-loving pedophile tennis coach would probably be something you would need to spend time finding closure for. But would you need to write a whole book?
I could understand that knowing it could have been you would be intense initially; knowing that you came so close to a monster. But, I struggle to find a reason why I should care about this woman or have to read a memoir of her life? Why was this a book, really? It’s like Weiss is using someone else’s trauma to make herself more interesting decades later, but none of it was interesting. It was all (mostly) normal teenage shit. Like, you’re in your 40s. Fucking move on already.
The questions or thoughts Weiss struggles with are not presented as existential crises about life and how close we can come to horrible things happening to us. Instead, the tone takes on a very gross “why not me?” vibe. Not, “Wow, that could have been me!” But instead, “Why her and not me?”
There’s this aspect to Weiss’ thoughts which posit that being the subject of Wilensky’s sick obsession would have been validating for her, and without that validation she’s spent 20+ years being mildly consumed with Wilensky and why he didn’t choose her to hold hostage in a rape cabin.
And that is… fucking stupid? Super fucking gross? Selfish? Insane? Like, honestly, WTF?
Weiss is not the victim and nothing about her life seems to really warrant a memoir. And by forcing herself into a traumatizing experience that was not hers, and then spending all her time wondering why she wasn’t good enough to be stalked and assaulted by a psychopath, this novel ends up feeling self-indulgent and tone-deaf, and frankly, kind of fucking nuts.
Not to mention, I hear Weiss originally tried to interview Jennifer Rhodes in the hopes of writing a real true-crime novel but was turned down. Instead of scrapping the whole project because the real owner of the trauma didn’t want to relive it, Weiss ended up writing about herself in a way that probably should have been kept between her and a therapist. If that’s true, my god woman, read the fucking room!
This book could not exist and that would be fine. That’s how I feel.
A highly unsettling blend of true crime and coming-of-age memoir— The Stranger Beside Me meets Prep—that presents an intimate and thought-provoking portrait of girlhood within Manhattan’s exclusive prep-school scene in the early 1990s, and a thoughtful meditation on adolescent obsession and the vulnerability of youth.
Piper Weiss was fourteen years old when her middle-aged tennis coach, Gary Wilensky, one of New York City’s most prestigious private instructors, killed himself after a failed attempt to kidnap one of his teenage students. In the aftermath, authorities discovered that this well-known figure among the Upper East Side tennis crowd was actually a frightening child predator who had built a secret torture chamber—a “Cabin of Horrors”—in his secluded rental in the Adirondacks.
Before the shocking scandal broke, Piper had been thrilled to be one of “Gary’s Girls.” “Grandpa Gary,” as he was known among his students, was different from other adults—he treated Piper like a grown-up, taking her to dinners, engaging in long intimate conversations with her, and sending her special valentines. As reporters swarmed her private community in the wake of Wilensky’s death, Piper learned that her mentor was a predator with a sordid history of child stalking and sexual fetish. But why did she still feel protective of Gary, and why was she disappointed that he hadn’t chosen her?
Now, twenty years later, Piper examines the event as both a teenage eyewitness and a dispassionate investigative reporter, hoping to understand and exorcise the childhood memories that haunt her to this day. Combining research, interviews, and personal records, You All Grow Up and Leave Me explores the psychological manipulation by child predators—their ability to charm their way into seemingly protected worlds—and the far-reaching effects their actions have on those who trust them most.