January 3, 2017

My Top Fourteen Books of 2016

Last year, it was my top eleven. This year, it’s the top fourteen. Why? I could tell you that I’d already left a lot of good books off this list. And I could tell you that I would cheerfully, joyfully, delightedly recommend any of these books to any reader. Really, though, it’s because these fourteen. among all those I read in 2016, touched deepest me in some way. Some, such as The House on Mango Street and The Long Season, are books that I’ve read before. A good number are ostensibly books on religious topics, but I’d argue that their subject matter was the human condition. They’re ranked first to fourteenth, but, really, on another day, the list would probably be shuffled a bit, or a lot. So, here they are along with a portion of my review and a link to that review: “A Canticle for Leibowitz” by Walter M. Miller Jr. In his novel, Miller has created a captivating story in which the future world echoes what happened in the past. Just as Western civilization took hundreds of years to rebuild itself after the fall of Rome, Miller’s post-apocalyptic Earth goes through a Dark Ages (the first section), […]
December 21, 2016

Book review: “Walks with Men” by Ann Beattie

Walks with Men is Ann Beattie’s very short 2010 novel about two vacuous but affluent New Yorkers who have an affair, break up, marry and then really break up. This reads like a longish short story in the New Yorker, a publication for which Beattie often writes. And that magazine’s readers seem to be its target audience. I was left feeling out of it.   Rarified stratum What I mean is that, despite the skill with which Beattie tells this story, I could find no purchase. The two central characters — 44-year-old Neil and 22-year-old Jane — are like no one I know, except maybe people in a movie about the rarified stratum of cultural winners who comport themselves like masters and mistresses of their universe. In 1980, when the couple meet, Neil is an academic who dabbles in commentary in high-tone periodicals while Jane has made a sudden (and fleeting) name for herself as the poster girl for a disillusioned generation after giving a graduation speech at Harvard that disparaged an Ivy League education. Headline! Headline!   Great praise from the French As the novel progresses through their courtship and living together and the ultimate disappearance of one of the […]
December 14, 2016

Book review: “Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit” by Barry Estabrook

Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit by Barry Estabrook is really two books that co-exist uneasily in the same binding.   Book one: For foodies One is a book for foodies and deals with the question of why so many store-bought tomatoes are so relatively tasteless. This book covers the first 35 pages and the last 73. Its focus is on the methods used by growers in sunny Florida to produce tons of tomatoes each winter to ship north to frigid and often snow-bound markets. These tomatoes have been created to be attractive, large and able to handle a lot of handling before ending up on a diner’s plate — all so that those diners don’t have to go an entire season or more without the foodstuff. The Florida growers work on a business model that is only marginally profitable. That’s why the tomatoes are fashioned to be hardy and, in terms of shipping, to be able to go the extra mile. In the latter part of this book, Estabrook examines some new strains of tomato that, although a bit uglier, may be able to lead to better-tasting versions reaching the northern markets. The bottom-line problem, […]
December 12, 2016

Book review: “Out of Sight” by Elmore Leonard

Jack Foley and Karen Sisco meet cute. In Elmore Leonard’s 1996 novel Out of Sight, Karen is a U.S. Marshall who arrives one late winter afternoon in the parking lot of the Glades state prison in Florida to serve a summons on a prisoner. But, as she’s getting out of her car in a parking lot beyond the fence, she spots, one after the other, a handful of muddy inmates climbing out of a hole and running off to freedom. Jack Foley, wearing a guard’s uniform, emerges right after them, and he and his buddy, named Buddy, get the drop on Karen, take away the Remington pump-action shotgun she’s grabbed to chase the inmates and order her to get into the trunk of her car. Not by herself, though. Joining Karen in the trunk is Foley who’s covered in muck after crawling through the tunnel that those other inmates dug. Buddy gets in the driver’s seat, and the getaway is on.   “Under different circumstances” In the tight space of the truck, Jack and Karen are pressed together, his front to her back, and curled as if spooning, except, of course, Jack is a record-setting bank robber and an escaped […]
December 7, 2016

Book review: “The Poets’ Jesus: Representations at the End of a Millennium” by Peggy Rosenthal

Peggy Rosenthal’s book-long meditation on how poets around the world and over the centuries have encountered Jesus — The Poets’ Jesus: Representations at the End of a Millennium — was published in 2000. Yet, it shouldn’t be thought of as a retrospective. The attitudes toward Jesus, by believing and unbelieving poets, that Rosenthal carefully, lovingly set before the reader can be found today among humans, no matter their faith or lack of faith. They don’t just exist in time. They exist, all of them, in the here and now. As Rosenthal recounts, there have been waves of theological and poetic fashion that have heightened various images of Jesus down all the many years. Still, I come away from this deeply spiritual work with the sense that, in some transcendent way, each Jesus identified by these poets does live, even those who contradict each other. When it comes to understanding God, there is no recourse but to acknowledge our blindness. We make stabs in the dark at trying to put into words our ideas, feelings and experiences of God and know how feeble those words are. And know, on top of that, how feeble, weak and bumbling are those ideas, feelings […]
December 6, 2016

Book review: “The Sellout” by Paul Beatty

The Sellout, Paul Beatty’s 2015 novel and winner of the Man Booker Prize, is a wildly free-wheeling satire of race relations in the United States that seems designed to offend just about everyone, several times over. At its witty, angry, bitter heart, though, it has a message. About two-thirds of the way through the novel, the central character — whose last name is Me and whose first name is never given — ruminates on the surprising byproducts of his seemingly nihilistic campaign to resegregate his small city of Dickens and its black population. It’s causing good things to happen, and he starts to get an idea of why: Charisma had intuitively grasped the psychological subtleties of my plan even as it was just starting to make sense to me. She understood the colored person’s desire for the domineering white presence, which the Wheaton Academy represented. Because she knew that even in these times of racial equality, when someone whiter than us, richer than us, blacker than us, Chineser than us, better than us, whatever than us, comes around throwing their equality in our faces, it brings out our need to impress, to behave, to tuck in our shirts, do our […]
November 28, 2016

Book review: “C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity: A Biography” by George M. Marsden

Three years ago, during the annual NCAA basketball March Madness, there was a parallel online tournament in which participants voted for the best Christian book of all time. The brackets, overseen by the Emerging Scholars Network of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, an interdenominational evangelical campus ministry, featured 68 works by such spiritual heavyweights as Martin Luther, Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas Aquinas, Rick Warren, J.R.R. Tolkien, John Calvin, Flannery O’Connor and Dante. The winner in the final showdown was Confessions by Augustine, not a great surprise since it has been one of the foundational texts of Christianity for more than 1,700 years. In second place, though, was a book that had been written just 61 years earlier by a self-described amateur theologian named Clive Staples “Jack” Lewis with the unprepossessing title Mere Christianity. C.S. Lewis, a British university don and an expert in medieval and renaissance literature, is best known today as the writer of such novels as The Screwtape Letters and the seven books of The Chronicles of Narnia, three of which have been made into movies in the last decade. Mere Christianity is framed as an explanation of Christianity for those who aren’t believers or are nominal Christians. As […]
November 28, 2016

Book review: “Big Bosses: A Working Girl’s Memoir of Jazz Age America” by Althea McDowell Altemus, edited and annotated by Robin F. Bachin

In 1922, after working more than four years in Florida as an executive secretary, Althea McDowell Altemus took her eight-year-old son Robert and headed for home territory: Chicago. For a carefree two months, the 35-year-old widow and Tidbits, as she called her son, made Chicago their playground, as she explains in the newly published Big Bosses: A Working Girl’s Memoir of Jazz Age America (University of Chicago Press): We had given the once over to every toy in Field’s playroom – we could tell you about every animal in the Lincoln Park Zoo – we knew every kid at Clarendon Beach – we had sported joy rides on the top of every bus line approaching the Loop – we had even been out in the country and helped milk the cows and bring in the eggs… It was nearly a century ago, but the Chicago playground that Altemus describes in Big Bosses won’t be unfamiliar to many present-day residents of the city and suburbs. True, Marshall Field’s is now Macy’s, but the department store retains more than a bit of its aura as a fixture on the city’s business and cultural landscape. The Lincoln Park Zoo and the lake beaches […]
November 17, 2016

Book review: “Pagan Babies” by Elmore Leonard

When is a priest a priest? And when is he not? Five years ago, Terry Dunn came to the small village in Rwanda to help his aged missionary uncle out and became the village priest when his uncle died. In Elmore Leonard’s 2000 novel Pagan Babies, Terry Dunn is a Detroit boy who, five years earlier, came to the small village in Rwanda to help his aged missionary uncle out. When the uncle died, Terry became the village priest. He is a Catholic boy whose mother had always wanted him to get ordained. He’d been an altar boy, and, like generations of Catholic school kids, he’d kicked in small change to the jar labeled “For Pagan Babies,” the collection for mission work in foreign lands. Terry had served his parishioners, living their life as one of them. As he explained to his well-to-do lawyer brother Fran in a letter home: “Listen to this, [Fran says to his wife Mary Pat]. He lists the different smells you become aware of in the village, like the essence of the place. Listen. He says, ‘The smell of mildew, the smell of raw meat, cooking oil, charcoal-burning fires, the smell of pit latrines, the […]
November 14, 2016

Book review: “Rodin: The Gates of Hell” by Antoinette Le Normand-Romain

I’m fascinated by the Falling Man near the top of Auguste Rodin’s masterwork The Gates of Hell, just to the left of The Thinker. It’s featured in a full-page photograph in Antoinette Le Normand-Romain’s 1999 book Rodin: The Gates of Hell. Holding on with his left arm, the nude figure is contorted, his muscles taut, straining, as he is just moments away from losing his grip and tumbling off into the abyss.   Never finished Rodin’s Gates of Hell is a monumental work — roughly 20 feet tall, 13 feet wide and three feet deep — that was never finished. He tinkered with it for decades. Actually, “tinkered” is the wrong word. Rodin interacted with this huge work of his imagination, adding and subtracting, and borrowing from its forms to create separate works, such as The Thinker. What is viewed as the definitive version of the work was completed in 1889 or 1890, but wasn’t cast in bronze until after the sculptor’s death in 1917. It is made up of 227 figures that stretch, strain, touch, bend, twist, writhe and reach out in the chaos of movement up and down the two (never-to-be-opened) doors, from top to bottom and from […]
November 3, 2016

Book review: “The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther” by Jeffrey Haas

The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther is much more readable than I would have expected it to be. This 2010 book by Jeffrey Haas tells the story of a 1969 Chicago police raid on the home of local Black Panther leader Jeff Fort in which Fort and another Panther, Mark Clark, were fatally shot, and it asserts that Fort’s death was murder — an assassination which was planned by Cook County State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan and arranged by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The raid was part of a national FBI campaign to ensure that a black “messiah” did not arise and threaten the status quo. Haas, one of a tiny group of idealistic white attorneys who worked on behalf of the Panthers (and other Anti-Establishment African-Americans), was deeply involved in legal effort to bring this story to light. It was an effort that, after a 13-year battle, was so successful that the city of Chicago, Cook County and the federal government ponied up $1.85 million for the survivors of the raid and the families of Fort and Clark rather than face a trial on civil rights violations.   True-believer […]
October 31, 2016

Book review: “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros

There is a universal quality to Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street and also something very specific. This is the story of Esperanza Cordero, and, at its heart, it is the story of every child who has gone through the very difficult transformation into becoming a teenager with all its excitement, fear, challenge and risk. No wonder it’s read in so many high school classes. At the same time, the book’s strength as literature is that it tells the story of a unique girl in a unique place — a Mexican-American girl in the neighborhoods of Chicago whose life is focused not only on the changes in her body but also on her need to figure out how to maneuver in the broader world. Esperanza lives in a community that is made up of newly arrived immigrants from Mexico and first-generation Americans, but also includes black and white people from such places as Texas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Puerto Rico. There’s even Ruthie, an emotionally fragile woman, who wears a babushka, the colorful traditional Russian headscarf that, in mid-twentieth century Chicago, was ubiquitous as a means of protecting the hair of women of many backgrounds from the wind. Ruthie, tall […]
October 24, 2016

Book review: “White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America” by Nancy Isenberg

Well, this book is a mess. Given its title, White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Louisiana State University history professor Nancy Isenberg would seem to be a book about a certain group, or class, in American society. But, throughout the book, Isenberg adamantly and continually avoids defining that group. A lot of times, it’s poor Southern whites, but, at other times, it’s only some poor Southern whites. Sometimes, it includes poor whites from elsewhere in the country, such as Maine and California. And, sometimes, she’s not talking about white trash at all, but about the fact that, from the beginning, there was the stratification of classes in the British colonies and then in the new United States. She is shocked — just shocked! — at the reality that there are rich and poor in this nation, and that it’s hard for the poor to rise up the economic ladder as, ideally, they are supposed to be able to do.   Other, better books I acknowledge that this book, riding its White Trash title, may lead to other, better books. Isenberg’s text hints at what some of those books might be: A book on the treatment […]
October 19, 2016

Book review: “The Children of Men” by P.D. James

There is something of a happy ending to The Children of Men by P.D. James, but that’s only if you don’t think past the final page. On the plus side, humanity has suddenly found a way to dodge a catastrophic extinction event, albeit one that, at the start of the book, has been playing out for a quarter of a century. On the negative side, people are still people, and that’s a bleak reality for James. This is one profoundly desolate novel, and James had no business at all conjuring up a feel-good conclusion. I think she wanted to find hope despite her dark view of human nature. Her perspective is pretty dark, such as the take on marriage given by her narrator Dr. Theodore “Theo” Faron, an Oxford don and very much a bloodless prig. He is asked if he loved his wife at any point during their now-ended marriage, and he responds: “I convinced myself I did when I married. I willed myself into the appropriate feelings without knowing what the appropriate feelings were. I endowed her with qualities she didn’t have and then despised her for not having them. Afterwards I might have learned to love her […]
October 17, 2016

Book review: “A Dirty Job” by Christopher Moore

A Dirty Job is a book about death. And it’s hilarious. It’s Christopher Moore, after all. As with all really funny books, there’s a deeper meaning to the laughs in A Dirty Job, published in 2006. Think of Terry Pratchett’s ridiculously humorous novels about his fantasy Discworld which grapple with real-life issues such as racism, pollution, technology, war, stick-up-the-ass-ness and, yes, death. All the time, Death. (Well, he is a major character in the series.) Reading A Dirty Job, I couldn’t help but wonder what Pratchett and Moore would have thought of each other and how they might — or might not — have gotten along if they’d met. (Alas, Pratchett died in March, 2015.) Their books are the products of writers with a skewed vision of the world and, for all their great humor, a sorrowful one as well. You can’t laugh if everything in life is just  hunky-dory.  Tragedy, though, betrayal, pain and, yes, again, death — these are what bring on the hilarity. Either that, or it’s a weepfest.   Side job A Dirty Job opens and closes with a death. In the first pages, Charlie Asher’s wife Rachel dies, leaving him with their newborn daughter Sophie. […]
September 29, 2016

Book review: “Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence” by Marietta Cambareri

Six hundred years ago in Italy, Luca Della Robbia created an artistic technique that permitted him to fashion what might be called three-dimensional paintings or brightly colored sculpture. It was a technique that resulted in glazed terracotta works that today remain as vibrant as when they were first fired. He and his nephew Andrea and Andrea’s five sons formed a workshop that, over the course of more than a century, produced hundreds of small and large glazed terracotta sculptures. They had a handful of competitors, some of whom apparently learned the secret of the Della Robbia glazing method while working for the family. The early works, particularly those of Luca, often featured figures in white against a rich, blue background. Later ones from the workshop worked in a broader range of colors. However, by the middle of the 16th century, the Della Robbias were gone and their competitors as well, and no other artists arose to follow in their footsteps. None, it would seem, had learned the secret formula. The art of the Della Robbias, in this way, is locked into a certain era of the past (from about 1440 through 1560), reflective of the tastes and concerns of that […]
September 27, 2016

Book review: “Rodin” by Raphael Masson and Veronique Mattiussi

I have a key question about Rodin by Raphael Masson and Veronique Mattiussi, but, first, I need to commend the Musee Rodin and the publisher Flammarion for selecting the relatively obscure marble sculpture Danaid for the cover of the book. Rodin is one of the artist-victims of modern pop culture — Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci are among the others — who have produced a piece of work that has embedded itself into the broad culture and the public mind that it becomes unseeable as  art. Leonardo’s Mona Lisa is an example, and Michelangelo’s David. Rodin is twice victimized with The Thinker and The Kiss. For millions of people who know nothing of art, such works have come to represent “ART” and are accorded a certain reverence that makes it nearly impossible to approach them with a fresh and open mind. In addition, the images of these works have been appropriated for billboards and t-shirts and key-rings and parodies and myriad other purposes. They are no longer themselves. They are an accumulation of millions of messages that they have been employed to convey. Anyone attempting to see them as a work of art must fight off a bombardment of preconceptions and […]
September 22, 2016

Book Review: “Ulysses S. Grant: Memoirs and Selected Letters.” edited by Mary McFeely and William S. McFeely

There is a famous photograph of Ulysses S. Grant, sitting on the porch of his home in upstate New York on an obviously very cold day in 1885, writing his memoirs. He appears a forlorn figure. He is in a rush, cranking out as many as 50 pages a day, even as he is suffering greatly from the throat cancer that eventually spreads to the rest of his body. He is in a hurry because con-artists have taken him for his life savings, and the only way to ensure his family’s future is to complete this manuscript so that his friend Mark Twain can publish it. He finishes on July 18, and, five days later, he dies. His Memoirs — which focus heavily on his experience in the Civil War and not at all on his presidency — are a best seller, netting his wife Julia more than $420,000, or about $10 million in today’s dollars.   “I am a verb” Out of copyright today, the book, reprinted by many publishers, still sells. I am partial to the carefully prepared and artfully presented 1990 Library of America edition, edited by Mary and William McFeely. In addition to the memoirs themselves, […]
September 16, 2016

Book review: “Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939” by Adam Hochschild

In the book world, there is developing a subgenre of history-writing that takes an event or a place in world history and examines it from the perspectives and perceptions of the Americans who were present. An example from 2010 is Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour by Lynne Olson.  A year later came The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough. Now, here’s Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 by Adam Hochschild. It seems to me that there are positives and negatives to this approach. On the plus side, the presence of Americans in the text makes it easier for American readers to relate to the topic.  It’s as if these fellow citizens are stand-ins for us.  They are coming from a world we are familiar with and finding themselves in a different place.  Their reactions are, in some way, our reactions.  Or, to use a piece of jargon, we at least know where they’re coming from. This permits us as readers to take in the history more easily, as if we were experiencing it.   A story-telling tension There is a tendency, anyway, in modern […]
September 14, 2016

Book review: “Sensing Chicago: Noisemakers, Strikebreakers, and Muckrakers” by Adam Mack

Historians have always focused on the facts of the past — What happened? They have also studied the reasons behind those facts — Why did it happen? Above all, they have sought to figure out how the past has shaped the present — What did it mean? Today, there’s a new genre of history-writing that asks a question that has long been over-looked or little reported — How did it feel? This is called sensory history, and it examines how things smelled and sounded and felt for someone who lived in a certain place at a certain time in the past, as well as the causes of those smells, sounds and physical feelings; the meanings that people of the time attached to those sensory perceptions; and the impacts that the senses had on the decisions that people made, individually and as groups. In other words, it’s doing all the same things that historians have been doing when examining, say, the life of Abraham Lincoln or the fall of the Roman Empire, but, in this case, focusing on sensory experiences. The question of how things looked has long been woven into the usual approach of historians.  The physical sense of taste […]
September 8, 2016

Book review: “Dialogues with Silence: Prayers and Drawings” by Thomas Merton, edited by Jonathan Montaldo

  Lessons from Thomas Merton in the pages of the 2001 collection of his writings, Dialogues with Silence: Prayers and Drawings, edited by Jonathan Montaldo: Merton experiences prayer as something not isolated in a place or into words. Instead, he writes: My God, I pray to You by breathing. He recognizes that reaching out to God requires something beyond — above? deeper than? — human limitations: I will travel to You, Lord, through a thousand blind alleys. You want to bring me to You through stone walls. Love is an act of will, or at least vulnerability. But it is also — maybe in its essence — being. The trees indeed love You without knowing You. Without being aware of Your presence, the tiger lilies and cornflowers proclaim that they love You. The beautiful dark clouds ride slowly across the sky musing on You like children who do not know what they are dreaming of as they play. God is Being, too, as Merton notes that as the clock ticks and the thermostat stops humming, “God is in this room. He is in my heart.” And Merton tries to open himself to God if he can first overcome “my sin […]
September 6, 2016

Book review: “Pennant Race” by Jim Brosnan

It’s midway through the 1961 major league baseball season, and Jim Brosnan, a right-handed relief pitcher of the Cincinnati Reds, is talking with Joey Jay, the staff ace, about when the challenge hitter with pitches. Brosnan relates the short conversation in his second baseball book Pennant Race and then steps back and tells the reader: Of course, when I don’t think I have good stuff — and there are such days — I don’t see how I can get anybody out. Usually I don’t. Brosnan, who was a pretty good pitcher during his nine years in the big leagues, is nothing if not rawly honest and drily witty in Pennant Race (published in 1962) as well as in his earlier baseball book The Long Season (1960). Both explain what it is like for a professional baseball player to go through a season of gamesplaying. And more than that — what it’s like for any high-performing athlete to try to harness the mystery of his or her skill within the context of the business, competition and fishbowl of major sports.   An elegiac quality There is, in fact, an elegiac quality to Brosnan’s writing, an underlying melody of loss. Just behind […]
August 25, 2016

Book review: “The Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro is a sad, bleak book about a man who finds near the end of his life that he has wasted it. On the second to the last page of this 1989 novel, Stevens, an English butler who, during an auto trip through the countryside, is musing about events in his life, decides that he needs to stop thinking so much about his past. “I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day.” His solution is that he will work even harder at learning the skill of bantering.   “Dignity” Stevens, the son of a butler, is a man who has taken on the role of the butler to such an extent that, as he relates, he is never off-duty unless he is alone. And, as his ruminations in the pages of this novel show, he is not really ever himself even when he is alone. Certainly, he is unwilling to let himself experience his feelings or, for the most part, even recognize their existence. His life is focused on being a “great butler” which, for him, means embodying the character trait that […]
August 24, 2016

Book review: “Hombre” by Elmore Leonard

I’m not sure how Elmore Leonard’s Hombre, published in 1961, reads for a young person today. It seems to me that there is something universal to it that would make the short novel interesting and even thought-provoking for a millennial — or anyone, for that matter. Something about personal integrity. Essentially, a motley group of people, riding in a stagecoach to Bisbee, Arizona, are confronted by bullies in the form of four robbers. The bandits are after a fairly hefty fortune that Dr. Alexander Favor, the Indian agent, is carrying. As it turns out, Favor has embezzled the money and is trying to flee with his wife before anyone catches on. But the robbers have caught on. The result is a chase, mostly on foot, through the mountains of southern Arizona. Hombre is a novel about the veneer of civilization and the real thing. Favor and his wife Audra, for instance, are the most genteel of the stagecoach riders. Yet, it becomes clear that Favor loves his money more than his wife. And his wife doesn’t love him at all. The real thing, in terms of civilization, has to do with looking beyond sentimentality and wishful thinking. It has to […]
August 22, 2016

Book review: “Sorrow Road” by Julia Keller

Sorrow Road is Julia Keller’s fifth novel set in fictional Acker’s Gap, West Virginia, and centered on the county prosecutor Belfa Elkins. If you want to get a sense of this series, just go about halfway into the new novel, to the point at which a couple of sheriff’s deputies have made a grisly discovery: And then the heavy-duty flashlights illuminated a gruesome tableau. The two old women lay on their backs at the base of a tree about three-quarters of a mile away, on a white mound of snow, limbs twisted like an Egyptian hieroglyphic. They were holding hands. That last touch, the two murdered women holding hands, is an example of Keller’s courage as a storyteller. It’s the sort of detail that most modern writers, especially those who want to be taken seriously, writers with ambitions of creating literature, avoid like the plague. It’s too sugary a detail, too sentimental, right? Too hokey. Except, in the right hands, it’s not hokey. Connie Dollar and her friend Marcy Coates, the deputies could see, had been chased through the snow by an assailant who had already slit the throat of Connie’s dog and carried a loaded shotgun to use on […]