Saturday, October 24, 2009

Devil in the White City Comes Up Short

While I agree with the consensus of the class that this was an extremely poorly written story, I think it was expertly crafted. And while everybody felt that the Burnham chapters were the most compelling of the story, I was more interested in the story of Homes. I perfectly understand that for the most part, 90% of the information in those chapters is based on hearsay or imagination on Larson’s part, I wanted to know the down and dirty part of the fair.

I found it really interesting at the beginning when they were talking about the process of producing the fair and all of the hardships that went into the building, designing, and of course procuring the actual fair, but after a while I found it rather dense. I became distracted by the inordinate amount of detail regarding the menu’s at the meetings and such. Larson seemed to be over-dramatizing everything in this book and while it’s interesting to know what they had for dinner, it adds no literary merit to the story whatsoever. In fact as a reader, I just found it distracting. I was fascinated by his ability to research however. In thinking about the hours he must have spent in order to get the nitty gritty details of the procedure the fair took baffles me. When it comes to a writers perspective, you have to give Larson some credit for his ability to research because he must have spent a long, long time on that book.

When it came to the story of Holmes I found myself completely engrossed in wanting to find out as much as I could about what he did and how he did it. I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but when the titles boats “murder, magic and madness at the fair that changed America” I have pretty high expectations on what I’m going to be reading regarding at least the murder aspect. This man was one of the most notorious murderers in the country, so I thought he would have been able to fulfill my expectations. Granted a lot of what Holmes did was never actually recorded, especially in detail, Larson was given a lot of liberty that he did not take advantage of. The way that he approached this liberty was to make up dramatic details that were overwritten. It came off like a cheesy romance novel and consistently left me wanting more. When it came to his writing style I felt that he should have been able to produce believable scenes that didn’t leave me rolling my eyes with annoyance.

As far as the style of the book, I felt that he did an adequate job of making the Burnham and Holmes stories intersect by alternating them. When I found myself getting bored with the inordinate amount of detail about the transactions going on in the fair he took a step back and began talking about Holmes, and when I got annoyed at the one-liners provided in the so called imagination of Larson, he switched back to the fair. Overall I would say that this could have been a fantastic book if had been written by a better writer. Perhaps this is not the type of book that is Larson’s forte, but whatever the case, it had the potential to blow me away. My interest in the character Holmes was just left so empty by his lack of creativity. He relied on the quick whips and cheesy lines that were distracting from the point that this mass murderer was under the nose of the police. The underlying story was adequately told, but the details that Larson was able to make up were just so poorly written that it became too much of distraction and a let down.

1 comment:

  1. Wait, now--if it's very poorly written, it can't really be well-crafted! That boat don't float! But I see what you're getting at.

    I think the problem with Larson is that he's more of a researcher and reporter than a prose stylist. The art wasn't showing as much as the strain.

    I can see why Holmes was interesting. Not only to you, but to readers in general. Including, let's face it, ME! When I first picked up the book, I didn't care a bit about Chitown, the world's fair or Burnham. Fie upon them! I wanted the dirt on Holmes. Sick bastards are fascinating. I admit to reading Chales manson stuff all the time--and I can't defend it. It's just interesting.

    Perhaps the problem here was the attempt to weld the stories together seamlessly. Do you think? The contrast was a great reporter's trick. White City/Red Blood. Bam! Exploitation heaven.

    But, you know, it's a bit of a false comparison. You could have just as easily written The Devil in the Jungle. Beef slaughter/human slaughter. Bam! Or how about Jane Addams decides to save the world after the horrors of The Jungle and the fires and the murder hotel/human slaughter. Bam! AND HE KILLS WOMEN! BAMMM!!!