Quiet Dell: A Novel

Quiet Dell: A Novel

3.9 18
by Jayne Anne Phillips
     
 

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From one of America’s most accomplished and acclaimed fiction writers, a chilling, 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.

From one of America’s most accomplished and acclaimed fiction writers, a

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Overview

From one of America’s most accomplished and acclaimed fiction writers, a chilling, 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.

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
08/12/2013
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.”
Vogue
“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

ISBN-13:
9781439172537
Publisher:
Scribner
Publication date:
10/15/2013
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
464
Sales rank:
526,274
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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