reviewed by Cara DiCostanzo
Thomas Gilbert Jr. is an All-American Boy. Princeton graduate, tall, athletic, handsome, smart, and engaging. Having been raised in affluence. “Tommy” had all the means to have a successful life. So why did he refuse to do absolutely anything?
Why did he ultimately put a bullet in his father’s head, after calmly asking his mother to go get him a sandwich?
Author John Glatt turns has written a fascinating book about the murder of Wall Street financier and investor Thomas Gilbert Sr., by his son Tommy, with the novel Golden Boy: A Murder Among the Manhattan Elite. But the story is really about how mental illness is viewed and managed in the US court system. The Gibson family has a strong history of mental illness in both parents of Thomas Gilbert Sr. His father, having depression and ultimately committing suicide. When Tommy shows signs of schizophrenia and mental illness, his parents can only encourage him to get help, as he is an adult and their hands are tied. Sadly, he refuses to get help, while simultaneously insisting the world is trying to “contaminate” him. As his friends begin to abandon him, he gets more and more paranoid that they are out to get him. He only has one staunch ally, his ex-girlfriend Lila Chase, who stuck by him through everything.
Golden Boy has many fascinating aspects; the book is one-third the story of Tommy and his descent into insanity and two-thirds courtroom procedural. There is never an argument of whether Tommy killed his father. It is known he did, but the question remains if he knew what he was doing. This is a five-year court battle full of drama and intensity, described in harrowing detail by the author. One can’t help feeling sorry for Tommy, who is so deep into schizophrenia at the time of the trial, that he does not know what is happening. Even going as far as to not realized they have convicted him of second-degree murder after the trial ends.
John Glatt has taken the reader on a journey through Tommy’s childhood, his years at Princeton and the many years between graduating and ultimately shooting and killing his father for cutting his allowance. The author does an amazing job tracking his descent into insanity and how it affects him and the people who love him. While it seems his parents would be to blame for not getting him the help he needs, they ended up paying the ultimate place. While everything has come easy, it is hard to condemn Gilbert as being entitled. He elicits more sympathy than anything else as someone who could have had it all but lost because of mental illness and being too proud to seek the help he needed.