February 23, 2009
The White City by Alec Michod: A Book Review
I read a great many books. As you might expect, I primarily read nonfiction pertaining to Chicago. Occasionally, however, I'll look for some lighter reading just to pass the time when concentration is not possible. For some reason, even the fiction I choose has something to do with Chicago. Ya, what a shocker.
While trotting to my gate at O'Hare Airport last week it occurred to me that I had somehow forgotten to bring some reading material for the flight. (This doesn't happen often. I always have a book with me, even in the car.) I stopped at the Field Museum store and noticed a book on the shelf that I thought would be perfect: The White City by Alec Michod. Historical fiction can be fun and when the setting is the Chicago Columbian Exposition, well, I'm a happy camper. After reading the book, however, I'm not so happy.
The plot of The White City is strangely familiar. A serial killer is preying on young boys at the Columbian Exposition and their mutilated bodies are turning up all over the fair grounds. When the son of a noted Chicago architect, who happens to be working with Potter Palmer, is pinched a noted forensic psychologist and sleuth, Dr. Elizabeth Handley, is called in to help catch the evil doer. I'm not going to go into more detail about the plot because you just might want to read the book.
But, here is my main problem. I judge fictional works by some simple criteria - Do I care about the main characters? Is the writing clear? While the plot may not be entirely believable, can I follow it? Unfortunately, this is a case where I have to say, no to all three. Concerning the characters, it's more a case of not knowing them. Michod just doesn't quite sketch them clearly enough. His writing style is a chaotic and awkward to read and I honestly couldn't get a handle on the plot or even care. Not good signs
In all fairness, this was Michod's debut novel published in 2004, and the poor guy must have been devastated to find that Eric Larson's The Devil in the White City was on the shelves and a phenomenal best-seller. Timing is everything - or a big part - of publishing, but I'm afraid it was a bit off the mark this time.
For me, The White City was a dull grey. But, like all works of art, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or in this case, reader. Never take a reviewer's word as gospel. So, go. Judge for yourself. Let me know what you think. Who knows; maybe I was just in a bad mood and didn't get it.