Quiet Dell: A Novel

Quiet Dell: A Novel

4.1 17
by Jayne Anne Phillips

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From one of America’s most accomplished and acclaimed fiction writers, a spectacularly riveting novel based on a real-life multiple murder by a con man who preyed on widows— a story that has haunted Jayne Anne Phillips for more than four decades

In Chicago in 1931, Asta Eicher, mother of three, is lonely and despairing, pressed for money after

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From one of America’s most accomplished and acclaimed fiction writers, a spectacularly riveting novel based on a real-life multiple murder by a con man who preyed on widows— a story that has haunted Jayne Anne Phillips for more than four decades

In Chicago in 1931, Asta Eicher, mother of three, is lonely and despairing, pressed for money after the sudden death of her husband. She begins to receive seductive letters from a chivalrous, elegant man named Harry Powers, who promises to cherish and protect her, ultimately to marry her and to care for her and her children. Weeks later, all four Eichers are dead.

Emily Thornhill, one of the few women journalists in the Chicago press, becomes deeply invested in understanding what happened to this beautiful family, particularly to the youngest child, Annabel, an enchanting girl with a precocious imagination and sense of magic. Bold and intrepid, Emily allies herself with a banker who is wracked by guilt for not saving Asta. Emily goes to West Virginia to cover the murder trial and to investigate the story herself, accompanied by a charming and unconventional photographer who is equally drawn to the case.

Driven by secrets of their own, the heroic characters in this magnificent tale will stop at nothing to ensure that Powers is convicted. Mesmerizing and deeply moving, Quiet Dell is a tragedy, a love story, and a tour de force of obsession and imagination from one of America’s most celebrated writers.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
At the core of this sprawling new novel from the author of Lark and Termite is a series of real-life murders committed in 1931. A man calling himself Cornelius O. Pierson woos Asta Eicher, mother of three and recently widowed, in polished letters promising fidelity and financial security. After Asta disappears with Pierson, aka Harry Powers, the killer returns to Asta’s home in Chicago to kidnap and brutally murder her three beautiful children. In Phillips’s retelling, Emily Thornhill, a lovely staff writer for the Chicago Tribune, covers the case with her photographer colleague, Eric Lindstrom, and the Eicher family dog, Duty. She falls in love with the Eicher family banker, William Malone, who bankrolls much of the investigation, but she also becomes enthralled with the memory of the three dead children: simple Grethe; her brave brother, Hart; and their precocious little sister, Annabel. Phillips’s plot is engaging, romantic, and fecund; her characters are beautiful, accomplished, and good—except for the bad guy, who is very bad indeed. The book veers dangerously close to melodrama, and the story drags when trying to stick too closely to the truth, but Phillips is a reader’s writer. For every tedious page of the murder trial, mired in the story-lethal muck of facts, there is one of soaring lyricism. The best bits are Phillips’s recreation of her characters’ dreams, and especially the ethereal afterlife of the enchanting young Annabel, who is only nine when she is killed in a muddy field in Quiet Dell, W.Va. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit Associates. (Oct.)
Vanity Fair - Elissa Schappell
“In Quiet Dell, Phillips mesmerizingly spins together fact and fiction, vividly imagining the circumstances leading to their deaths, and sets a young female reporter on the case to solve it.”
“Jayne Anne Phillips’s unsettling latest, Quiet Dell, spins out from a true crime story involving a 1930s-era-seducer—think Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter—who preys on a widow and her children.”
Portland Oregonian - Jeff Baker
Jayne Anne Phillips is one of the finest pure stylists in contemporary literature, and she’s found a story that sounds like a perfect match for her talents.”
Booklist - Brad Hooper
“The truth of all of Phillips’ characterizations is what lies behind this careful novel’s compelling momentum.”
The Great Gray Bridge - Philip Turner
“A mesmerizing novel drawn from the annals of infamous true crime…Meticulous, engrossing and spellbinding.”
The Wall Street Journal - Sam Sacks
“[Quiet Dell’s] success is due to a bold decision: Ms. Phillips has written a serial killer novel in which the serial killer hardly appears….Unabashed…There is a glowing beauty to the book’s brave, generous version of history.”
Tampa Bay Times - Colette Bancroft
“Sometimes eerie and dreamlike, others grippingly tense, yet warmly human, always written with beauty and emotional power, Quiet Dell is a virtuoso performance by a highly original writer.”
Boston Globe - Leah Hager Cohen
“Phillips’s effort to do justice — aesthetic and moral — to the victims feels bold and honorable...moving, even transporting…Phillips allows her own ample gifts to soar.”
Associated Press Staff
“An extraordinary achievement, a mesmerizing blend of fact and fiction that borrows from the historical record, including trial transcripts and newspaper accounts, but is cloaked in the shimmering language of a poet.”
Miami Herald - Amy Driscoll
“Phillips’ extensive reporting—she quotes from newspaper stories, letters between Eicher and her ‘suitor’ and the trial transcript—gives the book its considerable heft. And her creation of a Chicago reporter named Emily Thornhill helps to frame the story of the eight-decade-old event in a fresh way. Quiet Dell is a smart combination of true crime, history and fiction tied together with Phillips’ seamlessly elegant writing….As the book proceeds to its dark conclusion, Emily offers readers a glimpse of light.”
Chicago Tribune - Celia McGee
“Phillips, an acclaimed writer of largely contemporary fiction, this time draws on history: a criminal case from the early '30s.…But if the factual underpinnings of this latest novel are unusual for Phillips, her ability to transform them into a fictionalized narrative place her at the top of her form. Phillips has carefully inserted imagined private moments and just a few fictional characters to create a story both splendid and irreparably sad… As Phillips has proved throughout her decades of fiction writing, there is evil in the world, but there are some who will stand in its way.”
O, the Oprah Magazine - Arianna Davis
“Hauntingly imagines the victims’ hopes, dreams, and terror…Phillips blends fact and fiction in a darkly poetic way: The result is an absorbing novel that leaves us rooting for the heroine Emily becomes—and mourning the lives the Eichers never got to enjoy.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune - Mark Athitakis
Gripping…Chilling…The novel’s heartbeat is Emily, a Chicago Tribune reporter covering Powers’ arrest and trial…Quiet Dell does what Emily can’t, thoughtfully grafting a 21st-century sensibility onto 20th-century ghastliness. Emily resists the fetters placed on her as a journalist and a woman, while Eric, a gay photographer who accompanies her, is a keen observer of closeted life in the South. Phillips exposes the era’s prejudices less to render judgment than to show how cannily people like Emily and Eric worked around them.”
The Philadelphia Review of Books - Erin McKnight
“A novel of compelling impressions…Triumphant…[Jayne Anne Phillips is] perceptive enough to hear, and respond to, the smallest of humanity’s sounds.”
Colm Tóibín
Quiet Dell has all the elements of a murder mystery, but its emotional scope is larger and more complex. It combines a strange, hypnotic and poetic power with the sharp tones of documentary evidence. It offers a portrait of rural America in a time of crisis and dramatizes the lives of a number of characters who are fascinating and memorable.”
The New Yorker
“Compelling…Richly imagined…Phillips’s achievement is to reveal how intimately cruelty and kindness unfold.”
Stephen King
“In a brilliant fusion of fact and fiction, Jayne Anne Phillips has written the novel of the year. It’s the story of a serial killer’s crimes and capture, yes, but it's also a compulsively readable story of how one brave woman faces up to acts of terrible violence in order to create something good and strong in the aftermath. Quiet Dell will be compared to In Cold Blood, but Phillips offers something Capote could not: a heroine who lights up the dark places and gives us hope in our humanity.”
Colm Tóibín
Quiet Dell has all the elements of a murder mystery, but its emotional scope is larger and more complex. It combines a strange, hypnotic and poetic power with the sharp tones of documentary evidence. It offers a portrait of rural America in a time of crisis and dramatizes the lives of a number of characters who are fascinating and memorable.”
Kirkus Reviews
Phillips (Lark and Termite, 2009) fuses the established facts surrounding the 1931 trial of serial killer Harry Powers with her imagined version of the victims' inner lives and the fictional lives of a handful of characters connected by the crimes. Financially strapped since her husband's death, Asta Eicher lives with her three children in a large suburban Chicago house where she takes in boarders. Devoted to her and the children, former boarder Charles O'Boyle, who has prospered in his business, proposes to Asta while celebrating a joyful Christmas with the family in 1930. Aware he is gay, she turns him down. Instead, she assumes she will solve her problems by marrying Cornelius Pierson, with whom she's secretly begun corresponding through the American Friendship Society (think snail-mail Match.com). In July 1931, Asta leaves her children with a babysitter while she travels with Cornelius to set up the family's new home. A week later, Cornelius returns alone to fetch the kids. Phillips brings the Eichers to vivid life--Asta's guilts, 14-year-old Grethe's innocence, 12-year-old Hart's protectiveness, 9-year-old Annabel's spirit--and wisely eschews the grisly details of their deaths. Months later, the police discover the Eichers' remains in the basement of a garage belonging to Harry Powers in Quiet Dell, W.V. Charged with the Eichers' murders, Powers is indicted for the murder of Dorothy Lemke, whose body has also been discovered in the garage, because the circumstantial evidence in her case is stronger. The snippets of actual court testimony and reportage included are harrowing. While digging up dirt on Powers, (fictional) Chicago Tribune reporter Emily Thornhill falls deeply in love with Asta's (real-life) banker. She also takes in an orphaned street urchin. So in the aftermath of one family's destruction, Emily creates a new if unconventional "family" of people she loves. Phillips' prose is as haunting as the questions she raises about the natures of sin, evil and grace.

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Product Details

Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
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Product dimensions:
6.42(w) x 9.26(h) x 1.38(d)

Meet the Author

Jayne Anne Phillips is the author of Lark and Termite, Motherkind, Shelter, and Machine Dreams, and the widely anthologized collections of stories, Fast Lanes and Black Tickets. A National Book Award and National Book Critic’s Circle Award finalist, Phillips is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, a Bunting Fellowship, the Sue Kaufman Prize, and an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. She is Distinguished Professor of English and Director of the MFA Program at Rutgers-Newark, the State University of New Jersey, where she established The Writers At Newark Reading Series. Information, essays and text source photographs on her fiction can be viewed at JayneAnnePhillips.com.

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Quiet Dell: A Novel 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really good!
Nani25 More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading this book. I had never heard about this story but it is very interesting. Author did a great job taking a true account which was quite morbid and bringing it to life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is based on actual events which are fascinating. I loved the fictional characters as well. The time period added greatly to the story. Another excellent book on the NOOK is "The Partisan" by William Jarvis. This book also is based on actual events and an actual villian during WW II. It also has a wonderful strong female character. Both books deserve A++++++++
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I truly enjoyed this book! I did have to go back and reread a few passages for insight or understanding, but other than that I was enthralled with the story and the characters. I loved the author bringing in occasionally Annabel's presence from the other side after her brutal murder. I especially loved the characters of Eric and Emily and no doubt Duty, the dog, was my favorite! The photographs added so much in transporting the reader back in time to a real event in West Virginia's history. I would recommend this book to anyone who reads nonfiction as well as fiction and who would enjoy that sprinkling of an on looking spirit from the hereafter.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a very oddly written book and the language the characters use is very stilted.  The author begins telling the story in an almost mystical way, and often takes pages to get to the point.  The sex scenes are tawdry and in my opinion, dishonor the memory of the family and the people who actually existed, suh as the banker.  he was a real person and was at one point the mayor of   Park Ridge, IL.  The ghostly visitations during the trial and having to do with the dog were ridiculous.  I felt disgusted after reading the book.  f 
lsmeadows More than 1 year ago
Quiet Dell is a novel based on a series of actual murders committed in the 1930s by a man calling himself Harry Powers.  He does this by preying on widows who are writing to him via the Lonely Hearts Club, looking for someone to talk to and a bit of companionship.  In the blurb at the beginning Jayne Anne Phillips states that in her youth she was driven by the scene of the murders and the impression that left has haunted her, eventually compelling her to write this novel.  Not being familiar with the work of Jayne Anne Phillips, (this is the first novel by the author that I have read) I was not sure what to expect.  The hook for me, then, was that the basis of this book was a real crime.   Since reading In Cold Blood in high school, I have been fascinated by real crime stories, whether they be fictional representations or non-fiction accounts.  In the case of Quiet Dell, the first few chapters definitely lived up to my expectations.  This section of the book depicts the story of Ana Eicher, a widow with three children, who has no skills and no way to make a living now that her husband has died.  The author describes the current life of Ana and her children with heart-breaking clarity and emotion.  I was definitely immersed in their story quickly. In fact, I would give a 4 star rating to the beginning of the book, all the way to the part where the murders are discovered.  At this point, the author introduces her first fictional characters, a female journalist by the name of Emily Thornhill and a photographer by the name of Eric Lindstrom, who are covering the story for the Chicago Tribune. This is where the books falls apart for me.  It's not that Emily and Eric are not solid characters.  I actually liked the way that the author used Emily's compulsion to find out the truth about Harry Powers as a catalyst to take the reader through the investigation of his life.  It is Emily's romantic involvement with banker William O'Malley that I felt was not only unnecessary to the story, but actually a distraction from the investigation into the murders that should have made up the rest of the book.  For me this error was compounded by two other items that author chose to include in the latter part of the book.  These were the use of the youngest Eicher child, Anabelle, as a "supernatural" character (Think Susie in The Lovely Bones), and the inclusion of the "orphan" story.  Neither of these devices did anything to enhance the basic story line, in my opinion.  To sum it up, I copy a quote that I saw on  Amazon which is purported to be from People Magazine.  It says, "Think In Cold Blood meets The Lovely Bones, but sexier."  To me, that sums it up pretty well. Unfortunately, I would have liked a bit more of the In Cold Blood part and a lot less of the The Lovely Bones and sexy parts.  As I said above, I am not familiar with Jayne Anne Phillips other work, but I have heard that this is not her usual fare.  For that reason, and the fact that parts of this book were very well written, I plan to try one of the author's other books in the future.  I would like to that Scribner and Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my review. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She slept with her big red p.u.s.s.y showing (u can hurt her all u want)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yellowstars locked out of this res!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She layed down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yay! Irl my new bfs name is Josh. I met him a weel after i stopped rping d hes amazing
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Need a helping hand?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'll apply for the job.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Who cares?-EZUMALID
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
[Phylum P.O.V] <br> There are circles in He<_>ll. <br> My father&ndash;back when he still cared that I was alive and breathing&ndash;used to make me read. Not easy stuff. Even when I was a kid, there was no 'Winnie-the-Pooh', no 'Little House on the Prairie'. Not for me. <br> It was all about the classics. Hard classics. <br> One of the moldy oldies he put under my nose was 'The Inferno', by Dante. This book was seriously tough sledding. The whole thing was written in verse, and it was full of political stuff that didn't always make a lot of sense, and the language was creaky to say the least. But there were good parts. <br> In this story a guy gets lead all around He<_>ll to see how everybody is punished. A lot of it is kind of like you would expect. Lots of demons with whips. Fire. Snakes. That kind of thing. <br> But the idea that stuck with me was the way He<_>ll was divided up in circles. The de<_>ad guys up in the first circle don't have it so bad. It's kind of rainy and dull up there. But the really bad people, like mur<_>derers {or members of a political party Dante didn't like}, they got shoved way down to a circle where they have to run around without feet or burst inti flame or get eaten by big lizards or melt like candles. <br> I remembered this book the other day and started thinking that my like could be sliced up the same way as He<_>ll. <br> There are the little things. Finding out the deli is out of Krispy Kreme. Losing a chess game against some mo<_>ron I should have schooled. That's the gloomy, first-circle sort of He<_>ll. <br> The there's having to live with Fermin and Logan. Fermin knew my father, but I don't really know him. Logan didn't know my father, doesn't know me, and I don't even want to know Logan. She's definitely a deeper level of He<_>ll. <br> The next level down is High School. It gets a level of He<_>ll all to itself. <br> Below that comes Phoenix and Kateella. I wouldn't throw Phoenix in a bit by himself. I mean, Phoenix's the guy I want to be with. The only guy I've ever wanted to be with. But Phoenix is with Kateella, and together they deserve pitchforks and brimstone. <br> Then there's my Father, Xavion. My father disappears, doesn't write, doesn't call, and doesn't give me a clue about what's going on. Now we're getting really deep. Snakes and fire. Demins with weird Latin names. <br> And my mom. The way I feel when I think about her. When I think about her dea<_>th. Well, that brings us righr down to the bottom. <br> The way Dante tells it, the very bottom layer of He<_>ll isn't hot. Instead it's a big lake of ice with people frosen inside. They're stuck forever with only their faces sticking out, and every time they cry, it just adds another layer of frost covering their eyes. <br> Put my whole life together, and that's where I am. Down on the ice. Some days I feel like I have a pair of skates. Other days I wonder if Dante didn't get it wrong. Maybe the ice isn't the lowest level after all.
RobertDowns More than 1 year ago
Whenever I hear about a novel set in West Virginia by a West Virginia author, my muse does the happy dance, and I want to party like it&rsquo;s 1863 (for the uninitiated that would be the year of West, by God, Virginia&rsquo;s statehood) where our slogan is Montani Semper Liberi (Mountaineers are always free). Even as I reminisced in Fairmont and Clarksburg, with Hagerstown and Uniontown not to be excluded and thoughts of toboggans (the hats, not the sleds) and thuses (instead of pep rallies) danced through my dreams, I found myself staring at a cage filled with dead canaries and staring at a lethal dose of carbon monoxide. Despite QUIET DELL being set in 1931 and my tumultuous affair with historical fiction and my only connection to this particular time period being that my grand pappy approximated the size of a lightning bug, I set out to love, admire, and cherish this tale, only to slip on a patch of ice and crack my head open wider than a canyon. So what happened? The dialogue approached a haphazard nature, with a peppering of exclamation points and stilted turns of phrase, excess language banging off the page, and diatribes seeping through the exposed pores; the sexual encounters approximated an asexual nature, with additional encounters hinted at but not fully explored (probably the safer bet but somehow still managed to feel a tad awkward, like kissing cousins); the story proved both ambitious and a bit convoluted, with a hazy fog slapped across my eyes, and falling short of its promised destination. While the writing did show hints of promise, I found myself executing a mad rush to the end, somehow convinced that I had been conned all along, and that I will wake up in Chicago in an apartment with all the lights turned on. I received this book for free through NetGalley. Robert Downs Author of Falling Immortality: Casey Holden, Private Investigator