Sunday, November 1, 2009

Devil in the White City - #2

Devil in the White City—#2

I’ll quickly mention what I found problematic with this book. It is a mere observation and not a bashing session.
Then, I’ll go over what I enjoyed and found fascinating.

For every malleable story in the mind there are a myriad of possible presentations. I did enjoy the stories in TDITWC, but I did not enjoy the manner in which they where delivered or how they were structured. I did not like the delivery at all. Not in a boat. Not in a plane. Not on a bike. Not in the rain. I did not like his writing style said stam I am.

The main problem: there simply were too many wonderful epic stories occurring simultaneously.

I applaud Larson for telling them all. The history of Chicago, the Titanic, Architecture in general, The story of Burnham, The story of Holmes, (and many others) are injected into the main story of the challenge to complete the world’s fair on time. This struggle alone is story enough.

It is pointless for me to say anything more about the writer’s style; and, I do not have any solutions for the problem of simultaneity except one: structuring the book into two sections—one for the building of the white city and one for Holmes.

The white city portion is long, detailed, and mostly factual while the Holmes story is shorter and mainly speculative with many factual supports along the way. Perhaps, if the white city is presented first, some of its details could be referenced and synchronized with the Holmes story, as it unfolds.

It seems that Larson approaches storytelling by interweaving two or more tales together. This is not the first book he has written that does this.

What I like about the book:

  1. Setting: Larson did manage to successfully capture the city setting of this era and put the reader there.

  2. The Challenge to Chicago’s Architects: He appealed to the designer in me by offering reasons as to why an architect chose one solution over another—this apparently bored the rest of you to tears. Any project (or the design process) is almost always full of things that practically drive you to an insane asylum. Whether you are recording a CD, having a booklet printed, picking a cabinet for the bathroom, planning a wedding, or deciding which $150 garbage can you want from a store that only sells containers: something may go wrong and you must improvise and adapt until the project is complete. That being said, I did enjoy this angle on the architect’s dilemma and constraints and how they successfully completed their projects. The long rants from Olmsted made me nuts. He was usually right, but what a fussy little ponce.

  3. Bloom. What a character! I can’t believe this man wrote the tune that became “there’s a place on mars where the women smoke cigars…” bottom of page 208-209


I have VERY mixed feelings about stories or films involving serial killers. Like most people, my interest only lies in understanding why somebody performs these violent acts. I found certain moments in TDITWC incredibly enlightening in this regard. Even the famous quote from Holmes sheds some light on his behavior.

“I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing.”

Pg 87: describing the psychopath, “Beside his own person and his own interests, nothing is sacred to the psychopath.” “a subtly complex reflex machine which can mimic the human personality perfectly…So perfect is his reproduction of a whole and normal man that one who examines him in a clinical setting can point out in scientific or objective terms why, or how, he is not real”

Pg 408 “Acquiring Minnie” notes: Philippe Pinel’s appraisal of psychopathic serial killer:
“The serial killer is typically a sociopathic personality who lacks internal control—guilt or conscience—to guide his own behavior, but has an excessive need to control and dominate others. He definitely knows right from wrong, definitely realizes he has committed a sinful act, but simply doesn’t care about his human prey. The sociopath has never internalized a moral code that prohibits murder. Having fun is all that matters.”

Pg 200: “What he craved was possession and the power it gave him; what he adored was anticipation—the slow acquisition of love, then life, and finally the secrets within. The ultimate disposition of the material was irrelevant, a recreation. That he happened to have found a way to disposal efficient and profitable was simply a testament to his power.”

Pg 296: “This is the time he most craved. It brought him a period of sexual release that seemed to last for hours, even though in fact the screams and pleading faded rather quickly.”

Pg 257: “The possession he craved was a transient thing, like the scent of a fresh-cut hyacinth. Once it was gone, only another acquisition could restore it.”

It seems that Holmes was addicted to a sensation—an emotional reaction (in the form of the sexual release) that came from the acquisition and possession of victims AND the power he held over them. It wasn’t the grizzly act, itself; it was the feeling he had during the moments of controlling somebody before the taking of life. The killing and disposal was necessary side work, or “clean-up”, so he could continue his addictive activities uninterrupted. Holmes was addicted to this sensation; and, like all addicts, he had to repeat the act to experience that sensation again.

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