I always love it when I find nonfiction that reads like a novel. It’s all too rare, but always great.
It does sometimes seem that Larson’s great passioI always love it when I find nonfiction that reads like a novel. It’s all too rare, but always great.
It does sometimes seem that Larson’s great passion is the Chicago World’s Fair and that he threw H.H. Holmes in to hook the sex-and-violence audience. Especially at the end, when the World’s Fair is over and Larson is like “and then Holmes murdered some children and was caught and stuff. The end.” Seriously, he rushed through the end of the Holmes storyline.
Larson also had way too much fun hiding the ball. Especially the part about the “young engineer” who was designing something to be Chicago’s answer to the Eiffel Tower. Some construct that was innovative and seemed crazy at the time. His name was never used until THE BIG REVEAL about what he was constructing (view spoiler)[His name was Ferris. (hide spoiler)]
There was also a bit too much speculation in the Holmes part. Larson just uses his best hypothesis about what went down sometimes. I mostly didn’t mind, except for the “Let’s imagine Holmes taking two of his future victims to the World’s Fair!!” part. That was just pure imagination.
But Larson has a talent for writing exciting nonfiction. He can even make architecture and engineering and landscaping super fascinating (apologies to all architects, engineers and landscapers, but those are usually not three areas that I would describe as “nail-biting subject matter.”) I was on the edge of my seat for a lot of the book wondering how on EARTH they could possibly complete the exposition in time. I knew they did—hey, I know how to use Wikipedia!—but the how created an impressive amount of tension.
This is debatably THE first nonfiction novel. It is also a landmark in the true crime genre. Did Capote fictionalize parts of it? I would vote almostThis is debatably THE first nonfiction novel. It is also a landmark in the true crime genre. Did Capote fictionalize parts of it? I would vote almost definitely yes—there is far too much dialogue for it all to be completely accurate. But, in the end, I don’t have a problem with that.
Capote very cleverly structures the book as Before the Murders, After the Murders, and (only after Perry and Dick are arrested), The Murders Themselves. It’s a good device to keep you hooked, and also gives a better sense of the tension of the Unknown that affected everyone in Holcomb. An entire family slaughtered, and no one knows why or by whom—or if it will happen again.
Although this is a seminal work, I can’t give it five stars. It felt way too slow. There were parts that just dragged. It didn’t help that I couldn’t keep Perry and Dick straight for the life of me. Which one was the short, muscular one with bad legs and the father in Alaska and the seemingly cursed siblings? Which one was the meaner one, the ringleader type who envied and hated those with an education? I don’t know why they blurred together in my mind so much, but they did. I also felt too much time was spent on them and the repetitive details of their lives pre-murders. Maybe all this attention had something to do with the rumored relationship between Capote and Perry (Perry was certainly more sympathetically presented than Dick). Maybe not. But I didn’t feel like all that time spent on Perry and Dick made me understand them or their decision to kill much better. It was essentially that they had crap lives (Perry) or were sociopaths (Dick).