Showing posts with label Book Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Book Reviews. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Ariel by Sylvia Plath

Ariel by Sylvia Plath

I re-read Sylvia Plath’s Ariel (1964) this winter, revisiting it after first reading the volume back in 2002. Plath’s book of poems is brilliant and intrepid. Her poems gut you with their rawness and honestly.

I still don’t understand many of the poems fully, but they each made me think. I’ve also been reading literary analyses of many of her poems. I find it curious to see the wildly different interpretations people have of them.

It’s hard to read this work without also contemplating the tragedy of Sylvia Plath’s death. She was hugely talented, driven, and hard-working. I was glad to read this book again because Plath inspires me to write and be truthful and open like her.

I especially loved her poems "Medusa," "Poppies in October," "Kindness," and "Poppies in July."

"Medusa" in Ariel by Sylvia Plath

Purchase and read books by Sylvia Plath:

Ariel by Sylvia Plath The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath


Sunday, January 8, 2023

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century is a tiny, pocket-sized book by historian Timothy Snyder. It contains 20 lessons to counter tyranny. Most of the lessons are followed by a few pages that briefly describe historical moments in the 20th century.

The book is a short read, full of declarative statements. It’s not a history book. There are no footnotes or citations, and the same few authors are repeatedly quoted throughout.

The book started out well, and I thought some lessons were really useful reminders. By the end, though, I thought the author was running out of lessons and struggling to come up with a round twenty. One of the latter lessons was to use autopay to contribute to charities. This lesson fell shortly after Snyder derided the internet and suggested establishing a private life. Coupled, the two lessons felt quite contradictory.

The final lesson was to “Be as Courageous as You Can.” Throughout the book, Snyder makes remarks about Trump without naming him, as though he is Voldemort in the Harry Potter series. I wondered why Snyder failed to have the courage to name him directly. It felt like such an odd choice.

The book’s lessons all center on European history and neglect the rest of the world. I thought about this major omission when Snyder criticized Americans for not having passports. Most often, Americans who lack passports lack the means to travel. Most do not, as Snyder put it, say “they do not need travel documents, because they prefer to die defending freedom in America.” He was definitely speaking from a place of privilege, and the statement felt out of touch.

The book contains the following 20 lessons:

Chapter 1: Do Not Obey in Advance.
Chapter 2: Defend Institutions.
Chapter 3: Beware the One-Party State.
Chapter 4: Take Responsibility for the Face of the World.
Chapter 5: Remember Professional Ethics.
Chapter 6: Be Wary of Paramilitaries.
Chapter 7: Be Reflective If You Must Be Armed.
Chapter 8: Stand Out.
Chapter 9: Be Kind to Our Language.
Chapter 10: Believe in Truth.
Chapter 11: Investigate.
Chapter 12: Make Eye Contact and Small Talk.
Chapter 13: Practice Corporeal Politics.
Chapter 14: Establish a Private Life.
Chapter 15: Contribute to Good Causes.
Chapter 16: Learn from Peers in Other Countries.
Chapter 17: Listen for Dangerous Words.
Chapter 18: Be Calm When the Unthinkable Arrives.
Chapter 19: Be a Patriot.
Chapter 20: Be as Courageous as You Can.

I’m glad I checked this book out from the library as an ebook. Though it was a good read, I think I’d learn more from a more expansive historical work on the subject.

Purchase and read books by Timothy Snyder:

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder The Road to Unfreedom by Timothy Snyder


Monday, December 12, 2022

The Scarlet Imperial by Dorothy B. Hughes

The Scarlet Imperial by Dorothy B. Hughes

The Scarlet Imperial (1946) is an engrossing, fast-paced crime novel written by Dorothy B. Hughes. Born in 1904, Hughes was a journalist, author, poet, historian, and literary critic. She wrote many detective, mystery, thriller, and crime novels in the noir style. Hughes also penned a biography of Erle Stanley Gardner, who wrote the Perry Mason stories. Previously this year, I read her novel In a Lonely Place, which was a fascinating book.

During her career, Hughes received four Edgar Allan Poe awards from Mystery Writers of America. In 1951, she was given an Edgar Award for Outstanding Mystery Criticism. In 1964, she received an Edgar Award for Best Novel for The Expendable Man. In 1978, she received The Grand Master award from the organization. Lastly, in 1979, she received the award for Best Critical/Biographical Work for Erle Stanley Gardner: The Case of the Real Perry Mason.

The Scarlet Imperial (also published as Kiss for a Killer) is the story of Eliza Williams. We meet Eliza on a grey and rainy spring day that feels like autumn. Eliza is posing as a perfect secretary in Manhattan under a false name. She’s an agent, working for a man named Towner Clay, and she’s awaiting word on how to proceed with her unknown assignment.

Eliza is a mystery at first, but eventually, we learn her story. She has struggled through life, and she doesn’t even know her real name. Eliza believes she was born in Manchukuo and that her family were Americans. As a six-year-old girl, she witnessed the brutal murders of her parents and brother because they were white foreigners. Eliza pretended she was dead to survive. Then she wandered with other refugees, passing as Chinese with her dark hair and eyes. Eliza made her way as a roadside beggar until she eventually reached Shanghai at age twelve. There, Eliza began working as a kitchen maid, and later, she got jobs in cafes and in the best hotels.

In Shanghai, Eliza fell in love with an American flyer named Thaddeus Skowa of The Flying Tigers. The pair planned to marry, but he never returned from the war. Thad died in prison, after being accused of stealing the Scarlet Imperial, a magnificent, jeweled egg that was given as a gift by Peter the Great to the Persian Shah.

When Eliza learned that Thad was dead, she tried to kill herself in her grief. She credits a man named Towner Clay with saving her. Towner, who had been in the diplomatic service, took care of Eliza for months when she was sick and brought her out of the East. After she recovered, she began to help him in return. Towner sought artifacts and treasures stolen by thieves and looters during the war and returned them to their owners. After working for him, Eliza shared the story of the Scarlet Imperial with Towner, and he promised to help her find it and return it to the Iranians. Eliza believes that in doing so, she will bring the true thief to justice and clear her beloved Thad’s name.

In the opening chapter, Eliza is handed a mysterious package. She takes possession of it, and learns the box contains the Scarlet Imperial. Can Eliza keep the Imp safe long enough to carry out her plan?

The story has many complex characters who double cross one another. There’s a handsome, sapphire-eyed, Irish man named Gavin Keane who hands Eliza the Scarlet Imperial and makes her promise to return it only to him. Gavin is shot in Eliza’s building, and she nurses and cares for him. Eliza and Gavin are attracted to each other, but neither fully trusts the other. Eliza’s boss is an attractive importer and exporter of rare objects named Bryan Brewer. Is Bry being above board in his quest to obtain the Imperial for a client, and what does he know about the history of the precious object? A glamorous woman named Feather Prentiss flits in and out of the story. Feather has the attention of all the men, much to Eliza’s jealously and dismay. There’s also an FBI agent Jones who interviews Eliza repeatedly after murders occur at her building. Finally, there’s the Iranian envoy Feroun Dekertian.

If Eliza can get the Scarlet Imperial into Dekertian’s hands safely, then will he really clear her dead fiancé’s name? The reader is left guessing about who is deceiving who and what motivates each character. The Scarlet Imperial a suspenseful and engaging story, and I think it would be fun to see it adapted as a film.

Related Reviews:
In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes

Purchase and read books by Dorothy B. Hughes:

The Scarlet Imperial by Dorothy B. Hughes In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes The Expendable Man by Dorothy B. Hughes


Monday, December 5, 2022

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a novel published in 2012 by Jesse Andrews. The story is narrated by Greg S. Gaines, a senior at Benson High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Greg’s main goal in school is to get along with everyone while never being a part of any clique or group.

Greg’s best friend is Earl Jackson. Strangely, instead of calling Earl his best friend, Greg refers to him as his co-worker. The pair make films together, but refuse to share their work with others.

Greg’s plans to get through his senior year unnoticed soon fall apart. His mother tells him that his classmate Rachel Kushner was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia and insists that he spend time with her. Greg begins calling and visiting Rachel who finds him amusing. Earl also befriends Rachel and shares his and Greg’s films with her because she enjoys them.

Rachel goes through chemotherapy, but eventually decides to end her treatment. After learning that Rachel likes Greg and Earl’s films, a fellow classmate named Madison suggests that they make a film for Rachel. The pair work hard on a film for Rachel, but they aren’t happy with the result. Despite their misgivings, Rachel encourages both Greg and Earl to apply to film school. Greg and Earl’s film for Rachel is presented to the entire high school without their permission. It’s a painful experience, and they independently destroy all their films.

Shortly after finishing the film, Rachel dies. Earl decides to give up on filmmaking. Greg has failed his classes and explains that he has written the book as an attempt to get back into the University of Pittsburgh.

The ending of the novel falls flat. Greg realizes that he barely knew Rachel, and that his film was more about him than her. In some ways, this is realistic. We sometimes appreciate people when it’s too late or fail to ask questions in a timely way. Still, I thought it was a shame that Greg showed so little growth throughout the story.

Purchase and read books by Jesse Andrews:

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews The Haters by Jesse Andrews


Friday, December 2, 2022

We'll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han

We'll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han

We’ll Always Have Summer (2011) by Jenny Han is the third novel in The Summer I Turned Pretty trilogy about Belly Conklin. Belly is now in college and has been dating Jeremiah Fisher for two years. Belly and Jeremiah get engaged, and their families are opposed to them marrying so young.

Jeremiah’s brother Conrad also has feeling for Belly, and he feels conflicted about supporting Belly and Jeremiah’s relationship. He wants to confess his true feelings for Belly.

It was hard to like Belly at times. She gets engaged to Jeremiah while she still has feelings for his brother. Meanwhile, Jeremiah and Conrad often seemed to be competing with one another for Belly, and I wasn't sure either one was truly in love with her. None of the characters are fully likable, but the series was still hard to put down.

Related Reviews:
The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han
It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han

Purchase and read books by Jenny Han:

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han We'll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han


It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han

It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han

It's Not Summer Without You (2010) by Jenny Han is the second novel in The Summer I Turned Pretty series about Belly Conklin. At the beginning of the novel, the reader learns that Conrad and Belly have broken up and that Conrad and Jeremiah’s mother Susannah has died of cancer. Both the Fisher and Conklin families are grieving. Belly must face her first summer at home instead of at Cousins Beach.

Throughout the novel, Belly flashes back to moments from her relationship with Conrad and to Susannah’s illness and funeral. These events occurred during the year after The Summer I Turned Pretty. Several chapters are written from Jeremiah’s point of view.

Jeremiah calls Belly for help after his brother Conrad disappears from school. The pair find him at the summer house on Cousins Beach, and they try to convince Conrad to return to school. When Jeremiah confesses his feelings for Belly, she’s caught in a triangle between the two Fisher brothers.

Related Reviews:
The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han
We'll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han

Purchase and read books by Jenny Han:

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han We'll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han


The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han

The Summer I Turned Pretty (2009) by Jenny Han is a coming-of-age story about Isabel “Belly” Conklin. Belly is 15 years old. Every summer, Belly, her brother Steven, and their mother Laurel go to Cousins Beach where they stay with Laurel’s best friend Susannah and her two sons, Conrad and Jeremiah.

Belly has had a crush on Conrad for years, but he treats her like his kid sister. The three boys often do things together, and over the years, they have left Belly out. This year, Belly has grown up, and she thinks things will be different.

It is a different summer for Belly. The boys look at her in a new way. And Belly begins dating her first boyfriend Cameron.

The book chapters flit back and forth in time as Belly remembers events from past summers. The back and forth can be a bit confusing to read at times, and it was a bit sloppy. I think the author may have been confused by the timeline too. For instance, in Chapter 34, Belly talks about getting her period at age 13 at Putt Putt, but on the next page she wants to reclaim Putt Putt for her “twelve-year-old self.”

Nitpicking aside, the story is a fun, breezy read about adolescence and young love.

Related Reviews:
It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han
We'll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han

Purchase and read books by Jenny Han:

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han We'll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han


Friday, November 4, 2022

The End of Me by Alfred Hayes

The End of Me by Alfred Hayes

The End of Me (1968) is a novel by Alfred Hayes about a fifty-one-year-old man named Asher whose life has fallen apart. At the beginning of the novel, Asher witnesses his wife having an affair with a fellow tennis player. Asher is shattered and feels like howling. He returns to his house and decides to leave every light on and blazing instead of burning the house down. Then he leaves L.A. without telling his wife. Asher escapes to New York City where he was born and spent many years. He thinks,

"Thirty-five years. Yes. I'd given the city so much of my possible life. Surely, what was broken in me, the crippled sense of myself, would be restored. I'd heal among these brutal angles. I'd bathe in her like a spa. I'd convalesce in her indifferent arms."

He takes a room in a hotel with a view of Central Park, and watches the world from his window. Asher reflects on his life. He was once a successful screenwriter, but then as he grew older, Hollywood lost interest in him and doors closed on him. Asher describes it saying, "...the way the jobs disappeared, the people hanging up on the phone, the being turned into a ghost. They do that to you, you know: they ghostify you." He had two failed marriages and has no children. He thinks, "Well: apparently, what one ran out of was not mistakes, but the years to make them in."

When he walks around New York, he sees the changes in the city, reflecting:

"I'd walk slowly, I thought, and I would let the city come at me slowly. But New York does not come at you slowly. It isn't a landscape. It comes at you simultaneously. It is constantly existing at the periphery of your sight. You are almost always seeing at the very edge of what you see something else that you are still not seeing. I had always known this even when it was a different city and I had lived in it and was now trying to live in it again."

Asher visits his Aunt Dora, who mentions that her grandson Michael Bey wants to be a writer too. Asher meets Michael, who is a jaded, suspicious young man. Asher is rude to him, but later regrets his behavior. In his remorse, Asher hires Michael to walk around New York City with him to visit places that were significant in his past. Asher later wonders if he is trying to gain Michael’s approval, as though by sharing his history he will have a protégé.

Michael is dating a law student named Aurora d’Amore. Her name is ridiculously fake sounding, and Aurora is good at playing a wide-eyed innocent routine and "complicated games." Asher is attracted to her, and he jealously wonders what Aurora sees in Michael. When he’s with Aurora, Asher wishes he was still young.

Asher fails to see that Michael and Aurora are conniving and cruel. They gain Asher’s confidence to learn his deepest secrets, and they lie to him and humiliate him in profound ways. Asher is foolish, not realizing that that the pair is working to trick him and amuse themselves. At the novel’s conclusion, he reflects, "Everything went by. Nothing went by. I went by." Instead of finding a place to heal, Asher found more cruelty in New York. The End of Me is a tragic and cold story of loss, aging, generational conflict, ignorance, despair, and humiliation.

Related Reviews:
My Face for the World to See by Alfred Hayes
In Love by Alfred Hayes

Purchase and read books by Alfred Hayes:

The End of Me by Alfred Hayes In Love by Alfred Hayes My Face for the World to See by Alfred Hayes


Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran

Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran

Snow, Glass, Apples is a graphic novel by Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran. Gaiman wrote the story and words, and Doran was responsible for the adaptation and art. The book is a re-telling of the German fairy tale Snow White that was published by The Brothers Grimm.

The book tells the story of Snow White from the Queen’s perspective, and this time she’s the protagonist of the story. Her stepdaughter Snow White is a frightening vampire who at age six bites her and then attacks and sexually assaults her father, the King. The King dies, and the Queen describes how she got revenge on Snow White. She also shares how she would do it all differently if she could. The Queen’s men take Snow White to the forest, cut out her heart, and leave her for dead. They bring her heart back to the Queen who hangs it above her bed with a piece of twine. Snow White’s heart continues to pulse.

Later, the Queen uses her looking-glass and realizes that Snow White is still alive. She’s grown up and is preying and feeding on men in the forest. The Queen uses witchcraft to make three poison apples and disguise herself. She delivers them to Snow White who eats the apples and falls into a death-like sleep. Eventually, Prince Charming arrives at the palace. The Queen sleeps with him, but he’s into necrophilia, and she’s very much alive. The Prince ends up finding cold, pale Snow White in her glass and crystal coffin, and wakes her up. The necrophiliac and vampire are a perfect match. They marry, and burn the Queen in a kiln.

It's a creepy, gory re-telling of the fairy tale with sexual violence and adult imagery. The story is meant for adults, not children. Even though I know that fairy tales are often scary and gruesome, I was surprised by the explicit nature of the story.

The artwork by Colleen Doran was beautiful, and for me, it was the best part of the book. Doran was inspired by the Irish artist Harry Clarke, and I love his work too. At the end of the book, Doran shares some of her early sketches and provides information about her process in creating each piece of art by hand.

Related Review:
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Purchase and read books by Neil Gaiman:

Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett American Gods: A Novel by Neil Gaiman


Thursday, September 22, 2022

And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories and Other Revenges by Amber Sparks

And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories and Other Revenges by Amber Sparks

And I Do Not Forgive You (2020) is a collection of stories, reflections, lists, and essays by Amber Sparks. It’s a thought-provoking and humorous read. The stories have fantastical, surprising, gruesome, and imaginative twists. Most of the stories feature unique female protagonists. Sparks is a Gen X writer with a strong feminist perspective, who describes herself as a "morbid weirdo" in her acknowledgments. I discovered her writing on Twitter where I often identify with her tweets, and I decided to read one of her books.

The collection contains the following 22 stories:

Mildly Unhappy, with Moments of Joy
You Won't Believe What Really Happened to the Sabine Women
A Place for Hiding Precious Things
Everyone's a Winner in Meadow Park
A Short and Slightly Speculative History of Lavoisier's Wife
We Destroy the Moon
In Which Athena Designs a Video Game with the Express Purpose of Trolling Her Father
Is the Future a Nice Place for Girls
Our Mutual (Theater) Friend
The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines
The Eyes of Saint Lucy
We Were a Storybook Back Then
Rabbit by Rabbit
Through the Looking-Glass
The Noises from the Neighbors Upstairs
Our Geographic History
Death Deserves All Caps
A Wholly New and Novel Act, with Monsters
When the Husband Grew Wings
The Language of the Stars
Mildly Joyful, with Moments of Extraordinary Unhappiness
Tour of the Cities We Have Lost

Some pieces of writing are quite lengthy, but most are short and succinct. My favorite stories included "Mildly Unhappy, with Moments of Joy," a painful recounting of a broken friendship where one party is ghosted by text message, and "A Place for Hiding Precious Things," which was a modern fairy tale about a princess whose fairy godmother helps her escape her lecherous father. I also enjoyed "A Short and Slightly Speculative History of Lavoisier's Wife" where Sparks recounts the contributions of Marie-Anne Paulze Lavoisier who has been minimized in history as her husband’s "helpmeet."

And I Do Not Forgive You is a great read, especially if you’re a Gen X, feminist, morbid weirdo, who loves history, ghost stories, and fairy tales.

Purchase and read books by Amber Sparks:

And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories and Other Revenges by Amber Sparks The Unfinished World: And Other Stories by Amber Sparks


Saturday, September 3, 2022

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Transcendent Kingdom (2020) by Yaa Gyasi is the story of 28-year-old Gifty, a graduate student at Stanford working towards her Ph.D. in neuroscience. The story flits back and forth in time from the present day to memories of Gifty’s childhood and college days.

Gifty grew up in Alabama with her mother, father, and older brother Nana. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Ghana when Nana was young. Gifty’s father faces racism in the US and struggles to find work, and eventually he abandons his family to return to Ghana. Gifty’s mother works long hours as a caregiver and is a devoted member of her church.

Gifty is a quiet, studious young girl who wants to be good and writes to God in her diary. Her brother Nana is popular, outgoing, and good at sports. In high school, Nana becomes a star basketball player. Sadly, Nana’s basketball successes end when he injures his ankle and is prescribed OxyContin. Nana becomes addicted and dies of a heroin overdose. Gifty is 11 years old at the time. Her mother sinks into a deep depression and attempts suicide. During her mother’s recovery, Gifty is sent to Ghana to spend a summer with her aunt. Later, Gifty attends Harvard where she studies molecular biology. Before she heads to Cambridge, Gifty decides to reinvent herself and leave her past behind her.

In the present, Gifty is researching addiction and reward-seeking behavior in mice. She grows attached to an injured lab mouse with a limp. While Gifty denies that her life experiences led her to study the neuroscience of addiction, she’s not being honest with herself. It seems to me that she’s attached to the mouse because its injury is like her brother’s. The mouse also displays signs of addiction in Gifty’s experiments. When Gifty’s mother suffers from another depressive episode, Gifty’s family pastor calls her. She asks the pastor to fly her mother to California where Gifty will care for her.

In the past, Gifty has had trouble with relationships. She purposely destroyed a meaningful relationship with Anne in college when Anne tried to learn more about Gifty’s family. Gifty quite cruelly cut Anne out of her life entirely. Later, Gifty is involved with Raymond during her first years of grad school, and when he tried to get more serious and talked about meeting her family, Gifty sabotaged their relationship.

In the present day, Gifty is struggling to care for her mother while doing her final experiments and writing a paper. When her classmate Han notices her crying, they grow a little closer, and Gifty eventually tells him about her brother. She also begins to trust another colleague named Katherine, and Gifty tells Katherine about her mother. These small steps indicate some form of healing and newfound willingness to begin sharing her past with others.

Gifty’s final experiments are successfully. When Gifty alters the brain activity of the limping mouse, it restrains itself from seeking reward. At last, Gifty has an answer that she’s long been seeking. She reflects on her discovery in the passage below:

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, page 272

The end of the novel is abrupt. There’s a quick afterward to let the reader know that Gifty succeeds in life and that she has a prestigious job running a lab at Princeton and a happy relationship and home with Han. Her mother died in her own home. It was somewhat dissatisfying that there was such a gap in information about how this comes about in the arc of the Stanford narrative. Han and Gifty have planned to go out to dinner, but their early relationship is not well established for the reader. There’s also no explanation of how Gifty’s mother recovers to return home. The novel spends more time in the past than in the present day.

One of the strangest things in reading the novel for me was all the similarities I shared with Gifty. I too studied molecular biology, and I got my Ph.D. doing neuroscience research on addiction. I have an immigrant family. Long ago, my boyfriend-now-husband and I had a print and online magazine with the name “Transcendental Deliverance.” I made the same triangular move around the US as Gifty from the South to the Northeast to the West coast. Some of the minor anecdotes even rang true to me. Once, like Gifty, I avoided a man who was creeping me out by hiding in my campus library until I was sure he was gone. I found these similarities so curious and strange.

I was glad to read this story, and I really enjoyed Gifty’s voice and reflections.

Purchase and read books by Yaa Gyasi:

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi


Friday, September 2, 2022

In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes

In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes

In a Lonely Place (1947) by Dorothy B. Hughes is crime novel set in Los Angeles following World War II. The story centers on a serial rapist and murderer named Dix Steele. Dix was a fighter pilot in the war, and after his wartime successes, he finds his return to his regular life lacking. He lives in a friend’s apartment and depends on checks sent to him by his rich uncle. He has no interest in finding work. Dix spends his days sleeping and his nights riding buses with routes along isolated, foggy beaches looking for women to prey on and ideal places to get away with his crimes.

One night, Dix contacts his old Air Force friend Brub Nicolai, and he visits him and his wife Sylvia. Dix is stunned to learn that Brub is now working as a cop and trying to catch the strangler that’s been raping and murdering woman around the city. Brub tells Dix about the crimes, which have been occurring roughly once a month. At first, Dix is nervous that Brub and Sylvia will be suspicious of him, but then he grows audacious. Dix is convinced that he can outsmart Brub and the other cops by getting inside information from his old friend.

Here's an example of Dix's boldness in a conversation with Brub:

Conversation between Dix and Brub from In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes

Dix is an evil and twisted individual, a man who feels overly confident and entitled. He’s a misogynist who believes women have wronged him and that they deserve to be punished and humiliated. At the same time, he craves the company of a woman and begins dating Laurel Grey. She’s a complex woman, and Dix is convinced that they’re alike and meant to be together.

The reader sees the characters through Dix’s eyes, colored by his paranoia and rage as "the red knots tightened in his brain." Will those around Dix catch on that he’s the killer, or will he continue to get away with his crimes? In a Lonely Place is a fascinating and disturbing look into the mind of a murderer. It's noir at its finest.

Related Reviews:
The Scarlet Imperial by Dorothy B. Hughes

External Link:
I loved this wonderful essay on In a Lonely Place called "The Gimlet Eye of Dorothy B. Hughes" by Megan Abbott at Women Crime Writers of the 1940s and 50s. Abbott also wrote an outstanding afterword to the novel for the NYRB Classics reprinting of the book.

Purchase and read books by Dorothy B. Hughes:

In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes The Expendable Man by Dorothy B. Hughes