Friday, March 12, 2010

Poisoner's Handbook and Winter's Bone

Once again, I am reading more than I am writing and blogging (at least here). Actually, I did finish writing a story recently, "Sheltered Assets."; I'll report back if anything happens with it. Quick takes on two books...

I don't read a lot of book-length nonfiction, but I did suck down Deborah Blum's The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York. I read it with something of an eye toward writing crime fiction, and the book provides plenty of nice details about poisons and the symptoms shown by their victims. I haven't written much period fiction, but one point shines clear for such tales: back in the day, it was pretty easy to poison someone. The other strength of this book is its discussion of Prohibition -- and the terrible outcomes of this failed policy. What was the nation thinking?!

Next, I read Daniel Woodrell's Winter's Bone (2006) (which I just found out has been made into a movie). Woodrell continues to captivate me -- great, weird, eerie, harrowing characters, settings, and scenes. Woodrell writes a thick, intense prose -- and in this book, I got a little lost here and there. One might shelve Woodrell alongside Erskine Caldwell or some Katherine Anne Porter (less with Flannery O'Connor, whom he calls a major influence). Still, Woodrell uses, if obliquely, crime fiction genre elements. In Winter's Bone, a young woman hunts for her missing father, out on bail, so their home is not lost to the bondsmen. One crime is solved, sort of, but another crime remains unsolved, as in Woodrell's Tomato Red.

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