Say what you will about O.J. Simpson, at least he didn't inflict one of those embarrassing celebrity confessions on his fans. He didn't need to; Little, Brown paid him an advance reported to be $1 million for a memoir whose most glaring admission of frailty is that he didn't take his kids to church often enough. In "I Want to Tell You," dictated in jail to journalist Lawrence Schiller, Simpson portrays himself as one of the saintliest prisoners since the Birdman of Alcatraz. He spends his days readingthe Bible and trying to concentrate onthe interminable prayers of his buddy Roosevelt Grier. When he has an allergic reaction to athlete's-foot medicine, hecompares himself to Job, whom God also afflicted with skin problems. He calls his girlfriend Paula Barbieri "a very spiritual person" (or "girl") at least four times, and boasts that for the first month and a half of his incarceration, "all we talked about was Scripture." He doesn't say what topic intervened in September, but it might have been the nude pictures of Barbieri in the October issue of Playboy.
Perhaps Schiller's 10 jailhouse sessions with Simpson just weren't long enough to evoke much in the way of reflection. Obviously Simpson couldn't discuss his case much beyond denying, emphatically and repeatedly, that he had anything to do with the two murders he's charged with. Even so, his Incredulity Defense ("How could anybody say I could kill this woman? . . . Don't they understand that I'd jump in front of a bullet for Nicole?") adds very little to our understanding. (In point of fact, saying he would die for Nicole is not inconsistent with the prosecution's contention that Simpson was "obsessed" with his ex-wife. By definition, a crime of passion involves people in love, or in lust.) Self-revelation is not in Simpson's interests as a defendant, of course. Most celebrity authors purport to reveal something of their secret selves in their books. Simpson, by contrast, is forced to argue that he's the same bland, earnest, stiff person he was on camera. "I don't play O.J. when I'm on TV," he contends. "I'm always me."
The book is cast as a series of reflections, prompted by some of the 300,000 letters Simpson received in jail. Some of the letter writers did Simpson the great favor of discussing evidence in a way he could not risk doing himself. One J. Miller of New York, for instance, wrote that "everyone is focusing on the alleged abuse you inflicted on your ex-wife. No one has mentioned the abuse she inflicted on you." Many correspondents commiserated with Simpson over his treatment in the media. This gave him an opportunity to get back at a list of enemies, including Dan Rather, Connie Chung, Time and especially Newsweek. Simpson describes a Newsweek coverstory last summer, "The Double Life of O. J. Simpson," as "pure racism." The book also reprints some letters from people who think Simpson is guilty, but many of those are so hostile, illiterate and filled with invective that they make the same point as the favorable ones: that most of the people opposed to him either are racists or crackpots or have a stake in his guilt.
"I Want to Tell You" is basically an extended gloss on Simpson's famous assertion that he is "100 percent not guilty." Jail life has been hard, but his faith and Paula's spirituality sustain him. "God brings Nicole to me in my dreams," he writes. "She's radiant. Complete loveliness." And Job, remember, came out all right in the end.