After some searching, I’m excited to announce that I found a book club here on island that I really love! The meeting reminded me of my book club back in Bethesda: sitting around someone’s couch, talking about the book for a little bit, but mostly catching up with each other and enjoying food. Most importantly, this book club (so far) has similar taste to what I like, and they take turns picking the book. I love a lot of variety in my reading; like variety in your food, I think it makes you stronger and healthier. The book for this month was Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson, whose work I have read and enjoyed before.
The book follows two developing plotlines: the planning and execution of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and the serial killer H.H. Holmes as he adapts various schemes to find new victims. The two stories intersect at times, but you find yourself waiting for them to collide in a huge climax. Because this book is nonfiction, this clean rise and fall never comes.
Larson has a really unique writing style. He uses letters, interviews, photographs, and whatever he can find to flesh in the details and takes liberty with what nobody could possibly know, ie what the murder victims were thinking in their final moments. The result is a history book that reads like a thriller; I couldn’t put it down. Like anyone else, I love a good serial killer, and H.H. Holmes did not disappoint. Not much is known about Holmes, but Larson paints him as a professional scam artist using the influx of innocent women coming for the fair to his advantage.
The murder-thriller genre has been proven to be one of our country’s favorites. The book was so much more than that, though. The Chicago World’s Fair was a marvel that Larson brought to life. He talked about the invention of the Ferris Wheel, and all of the drama that it took to make it real. Larson goes on and on like an 1893 tourist brochure.
“They saw even more ungodly things—the first zipper; the first-ever all-electric kitchen, which included an automatic dishwasher; and a box purporting to contain everything a cook would need to make pancakes, under the brand name Aunt Jemima’s. They sampled a new, oddly flavored gum called Juicy Fruit, and caramel-coated popcorn called Cracker Jack. A new cereal, Shredded Wheat, seemed unlikely to succeed—“shredded doormat,” some called it—but a new beer did well, winning the exposition’s top beer award. Forever afterward, its brewer called it Pabst Blue Ribbon.”
The entire time, I kept thinking to myself, this reads like a movie! While the men were rushing to create the fair, it didn’t feel like they were going to pull it off. Each new obstacle seemed larger than the last, and when Holmes appeared in the book, you could practically hear the dun dun dunnnnn… One quick Google search told me that Leonardo diCaprio is starring as H.H. Holmes in the movie version directed by Martin Scorcese, to be released in 2017! Oh, happy day!
The reviews I read online were mixed. Most people felt disappointed that the two stories were so disjointed and wished that they came together at the end. A few people expressed regret that the book was such a “history lesson”. I completely disagree.
I didn’t mind the fact that the World’s Fair and the Holmes storylines were separated, and I didn’t think it was dry at all. Larson did a great job bringing this incredible story to life, and I cannot wait to see it in theaters!
On another note, I may be taking a little Christmas break from posting as we will be away for the holidays this year. I hope that you all have a safe and cozy holiday! Merry Christmas to all!