A well-researched reimagining of what was once called “the crime of the century.”

Homo Superiors

Fields’ (Countrycide: Stories, 2014, etc.) latest novel offers a sympathetic look at a pair of murderers.

The author recasts one of the most infamous cases of the 20th century and brings it into the modern era, replacing the deluded Chicago-based killers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb of the 1920s with present-day alter egos Noah Kaplan and Ray Klein. Noah is a shy, brainy 18-year-old, nervous about his sexuality and mad for bird-watching. His classmate Ray, a budding sociopath, idolizes Friedrich Nietzsche and dreams of becoming an Übermensch, or superior man: “we’d be seeing colors we don’t even know are around us, understanding time the way it really is, and not this day/night/harvest season animalistic calculating we’ve been doing so far,” he tells Noah. Ray, though heterosexual, accommodates Noah’s crush on him in exchange for Noah’s collaboration in some very bad ideas: “Ray could be a bit of a user. Noah knew that, and knew that he liked being used by Ray because it netted him more time in the boy’s presence.” Ray soon drags Noah along for excursions into theft, arson, and, eventually, murder. The real-life Leopold and Loeb confessed to choosing a 14-year-old boy, taking him off the street into their car, and laboriously chiseling his head apart. Fields has done her research: her own book ends abruptly with Ray and Noah cruising through their own Chicago neighborhood, armed with “a heavy chisel with the blade taped up for bludgeoning.” It was a wise move on the author’s part to end her novel just at the moment when no amount of work could make readers feel sympathy toward poor, misguided Noah. As it stands, however, she’s acquitted herself as a modern-day Clarence Darrow, creating as compelling a brief for the defense as Noah Kaplan (or Nathan Leopold) could possibly hope to have. She writes so arrestingly of thwarted desire and social awkwardness that readers may briefly believe themselves to be inside Noah’s own skin. Overall, it’s a thoroughly unsettling book.

A well-researched reimagining of what was once called “the crime of the century.” 

Pub Date: June 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59021-626-2

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Lethe Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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