The Tottenville Book Discussion group met this past Monday night to discuss The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. We had a pretty good discussion, but I think I liked the book a whole lot more than most of the group. They liked it, but they didn’t think it was fabulous like I did. It was one of the best books I have read in a long time, and I loved how he interwove the story of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and of the serial killer, H.H. Holmes. (This is a nonfiction book that read like a really good novel.)
One participant said she just wanted to read about the serial killer and didn’t much care for the World’s Fair part. Another said she couldn’t really feel sympathy for any of the characters. Someone else said they thought people in the story were naive, to which I asked, “Were they naive, or was it just that it was a different time and place from our own?” I had a hard time drawing from them why the author chose to put these two stories side by side. The group is usually pretty good, but they gave some really strange answers to this question. (”Maybe he wanted a gimmick to help sell his book.” “If he just wrote about the World’s Fair no one would want to read it.”) To me, it was symbolic of a passing simpler time to the more complicated, and violent, 20th century. Trying to be a good book discussion leader, I never said that to the group but tried to draw it out of them. Some of them sort of got it.
I didn’t realize until I looked up on the Internet that the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago stands on the site of the Palace of Fine Arts from the Fair. While it was totally rebuilt to be a permanent structure, it has the exact same design. When I was in the Navy and stationed near Chicago, I visited the Museum, so I had some sense of where the World’s Fair was located.
A great book, and easy to read! It’s a coming of age story for our country. It is both entertaining and thought-provoking. I highly recommend it!