Monday, September 24, 2007

Reviewing "Devil in the White City"...finally...

Finally, I finished reading "Devil in the White City." It was a really good book, no doubt...particularly just from the standpoint of Chicago history and whatnot. So it was really cool to read about the trials and tribulations and all that regarding the World's Columbian Exposition. The murder parts were intriguing, but really, given the monumental nature of the fair, it was hard for the writer to give that its "just desserts" as an equal part of the book.

But it was definitely interesting to read the juxtaposition of the Exposition and this serial killer's own plans and actions, going on at the same time.

However, I thought there were some serious flaws with the writing style. Although I enjoy the kinds of stories (whether they be books, movies or TV shows) that look at several different characters and what they're doing at the roughly exact same moments, I think this writer involved too many characters. He certainly ties them all together at the end and brings closure to all the characters (as to what they ended up doing after the Exposition ended and whatnot). But by the time I got to that part, some of the characters had slipped my mind. Not because I'm forgetful, but because this is not a book you can read in one sitting, unless you're flying to Europe or Asia or something--it's a long book. So, there were too many characters for the length of the book.

Second, I didn't like his "reality/game-show TV" style of writing. He would end chapters with teasers, as though he was paranoid that you'd put the book down and never read it again if he didn't give you a teaser to get through to the next sub-chapter that included this particular character. Although Kurt Vonnegut, my favorite author, loved to do the whole sub-chapter thing and even had some teasers, he did it with a handful of characters and always came back to those characters before they had vanished from memory. This writer often had way too much in between sub-chapters on particular characters to where you had to pause and think what had happened prior.

Otherwise, though, his writing style was good...I liked his pointing out of certain things that were "invented" at the exposition, and famous folks who went on to greater things.

Overall, it's definitely a great read for anyone who likes Chicago history, Daniel Burnham or the World's Columbian Exposition. It's actually pretty appropriate for today's Chicago Olympic bid to see how a much smaller Chicago in that day beat the odds and held a very spectacular event.


Will said...

Yay Devil In The White City! They are tearing down the house at the Wrightwood address that is mentioned in the book. You should buy and build a bungalow there.

Andy said...

Are they really? I just found a picture of it, and it's a relatively pretty looking building. It's a shame they'll knock it down and put up (probably) some Lincoln Park same-old-boxy condo/townhome building.

Stupid progress. :)

basianov said...

I loved this book and enjoyed his writing style. re: your critique of the characters... I think he did a good job given that this was based on historical research, and I bet he only had scraps of info on which to base the story/his characters on ... must make it infinitely harder than someone who can make up an entire story from start to finish for a character!