A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion

Ron Hansen, Author
Ron Hansen, Scribner, $25 (272p) ISBN 978-1-4516-1755-9
Open Ebook - 272 pages - 978-1-4516-1757-3
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-1-4516-1756-6
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Hansen has built a formidable career out of reinvigorating historical episodes with accomplished fiction (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), but this lurid 1920s noir procedural lacks the pop and crackle of his better works. The clumsy murder of Ruth Snyder's husband by her lover, hosiery salesman Judd Gray, is immediately solved by the police, plunging the book into a lengthy flashback of the affair leading up to the crime—but the real violence is done to history. Frequent interjections inform the reader that, for instance, Scott Fitzgerald coined the phrase "the Jazz Age" and that Babe Ruth played for the Yankees, or pointlessly trot out D.W. Griffith, the Ziegfeld Follies, and the temperance movement in what quickly becomes an annoying caricature of old timeyness. The chapters concerning Gray and Snyder's trial and the media frenzy surrounding it are more representative of Hansen's talents, but they alone aren't enough to salvage this misdirected effort. The real-life case of the couple and the readiness with which they betrayed one another has inspired other films and novels (most notably James M. Cain's Double Indemnity), but this ripped-from-the-archives feels deflated and stale. (June)
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