Wood combines elements of true crime with the techniques of contemporary fiction in his bold debut, which recounts the investigation into the 2008 murder of Sabine Musil-Buehler, a Gulf Coast Florida motel owner. Wood, who was a guest at the motel when the investigation began, first sequesters the facts of the crime and lines up the persons of interest: the victim’s husband, her boyfriend, and the man who stole her car after her death. He then departs from the crime story to explore the fallibility of relationships—including his own romantic entanglements—as well as the untrustworthiness of facts in general. “As the Sarasota reporter had explained to me, if I wanted the truth, I would have to make it up,” Wood writes. Indeed, he pumps up his imagination to rework Musil-Buehler’s murder into the consequence of a doomed love affair between the victim and her killer. Wood’s impressionistic prose is on display throughout; in one particularly ambitious passage, he places the motel fire that followed the owner’s death among a history of fires including “the burning of the heretic Jan Hus, whose pyre would not catch until an old rag woman, hoping to be helpful, offered the soldiers involved her bundle of twigs.” Readers of literary nonfiction will find a promising new writer. (Apr.)
"A murder on the Gulf's Coast's Anna Maria Island sets the stage for a fascinating exploration of love and loss, told amid swaying palm trees and seedy motels." —Entertainment Weekly “In Love and Death in the Sunshine State, this gripping exploration of an island murder and a heartland love, Cutter Wood subverts all our expectations for the true crime genre. He challenges what we mean by 'true,' by presenting us with feats of imagination alongside traditional reportage, and challenges how we understand 'crime' by asking us to consider the relationship between acts of extraordinary violence and the rhythms of our ordinary lives. Wood’s voice is smart, curious, playful, and wholly engaging.” —Leslie Jamison, author of The Recovering “Love and Death in the Sunshine State, the new debut by Cutter Wood, is an astonishing true-crime narrative that, in its lyricism and formal inventiveness, expands and defies our expectations of what literary nonfiction can be . . . In the spirit of William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow, Wood pushes beyond the facts of the case itself to explore larger questions of intimacy, destruction, and regret. This is a brilliant first book by an enormously talented young writer.” —LitHub "Wood’s mixture of fact and art yields a tale both gritty and introspective, with a real murder providing an entree to an examination of the nature of love. Wood’s prose is detailed yet deft... This is a fine true-crime mystery and a touching journey into the human heart." —Minneapolis Star-Tribune “Love and Death in the Sunshine State is a memorable, thought-provoking work of true crime and imagination.” —Shelf Awareness “Cutter Wood's book, Love and Death in the Sunshine State, is like the antidote to the typical true crime story. It's a sad, tough story, but Cutter Wood takes the reader to the heart of the matter. His is a respectful approach to human imperfection and frailty. I look forward to reading Wood's future works.”—Seattle Post-Intelligencer “An exploration of motive and desire, a little bit of death and a whole lot more love. It’s compelling and ethically sticky, and it will haunt you for a long time after you’re done.”—CrimeReads.com “Wood combines elements of true crime with the techniques of contemporary fiction in his bold debut . . . Readers of literary nonfiction will find a promising new writer.” —Publishers Weekly “Those who appreciate style and creativity, which Wood has in abundance, will enjoy this.” —Booklist “ . . . written with psychological insight and literary flair.” —Kirkus Reviews “There's a murder at the heart of Cutter Wood's remarkably tender and haunting new book, but in its soul, this is a story about coming of age and falling in love. Ultimately, the greatest achievements of Love and Death in the Sunshine State are its unflinching attention to both what must be reported and what can only be imagined, and its insistence that somewhere between the two lies the complexity of our lived experience.” —John D’Agata, author of About a Mountain
"If Elmore Leonard had narrated Michael Paterniti’s Driving Mr. Albert, the result might be something like Cutter Wood’s Love and Death in the Sunshine State: a smart, engrossing true-life noir that weaves in meditations on love and the literary life, all set amid the palm trees and seedy motels of Florida’s steaming coastline." —Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, author of The Fact of a Body "A striking blend of reportage, memoir, and confession, Cutter Wood has created a story that is bold, rapturous, and heartbreaking. In this extraordinary work of nonfiction, Wood considers what it means to love and be loved and reckons with the co-existence of our everyday desires in the midst of incomprehensible terror. Like the the work of Sebald, the book's unexpected paths to self-reflection and grace are wonderfully disorienting and sure to leave you rethinking the world around you." —Jennifer Percy, author of Demon Camp
A fledgling writer tackles a true-crime story and, in the process, discovers some uncomfortable truths about himself.As a graduate student in the creative writing program at the University of Iowa, Wood learned of a murder and arson at the Tampa-area motel where he'd recently stayed. There was no body, weapon, or motive, but the woman, Sabine, who co-owned the motel with her estranged husband, had gone missing. Her car was found with somebody else driving it, a man with a shady past. Less than two weeks later, the motel was torched. There were three suspects: Sabine's estranged husband, her ex-con boyfriend who had done odd jobs at the motel, and the stranger driving her car. Wood felt like he didn't belong in Iowa and was suffering something of the imposter syndrome as a would-be writer with nothing to write. After his mother sent him a news clipping about the crime, he writes, "I found in this fiery motel everything necessary to write." The most conventional part of the story follows a familiar true-crime format, culminating in a confession that solves the mystery. But along the way, the book becomes more about Wood and how he stumbled into a relationship with a woman he didn't know as well as he should have. He finds eerie parallels between this relationship and the one that he imagines developed between the woman who is now missing and likely murdered and her boyfriend, a prime suspect who was returned to prison on a parole violation. As the author began to sense "the creeping entanglement" of the stories, "a sharp nausea crept over me." The narrative then shifts into Wood's projected account of exactly what happened, how the romance developed between the ex-con and the woman, and how she died. It's as much about what he sees in himself as it is about what might have happened to somebody else.Reads like a mashup of at least three different books in one, written with psychological insight and literary flair but lacking cohesion and focus.
With her husband, Tom, Sabine Musil-Buehler owned and operated a motel on Anna Maria Island off the gulf coast of Florida. However, she was living with her ex-con boyfriend when she disappeared in 2008. What might have been a clear-cut case of murder was complicated by the absence of a body. At the time of Sabine's disappearance, Wood was staying at the Buehlers' motel. He watched as search parties were organized and flyers were posted. Wood soon became obsessed with learning whether the husband, who would benefit financially from Sabine's death, or the boyfriend, who feared that Sabine was on the verge of ending the affair, was responsible for her disappearance. Wood tells the story from his own first-person perspective, as well as from the perspectives of people he interviewed. Not only was Wood allowed access to the police files, he was encouraged by the police to entrap the ex-con, their prime suspect. Narrator Joe Barrett does an exemplary job of distinguishing among the characters. VERDICT True crime aficionados will enjoy this whodunit. Floridians will also appreciate this concise history of a mysterious crime.—Ann Weber, Bellarmine Coll. Prep., San José, CA