Sunday, March 8, 2015
A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion by Ron Hansen
In the Roaring Twenties, two addled jitterbugs commit a murder
Ruth Snyder, Swedish American party girl, is married to cheap grumpy Albert. Ruth has her various men friends, but once she meets Judd Grey, corset salesman, she embarks upon a sustained, sexually passionate love affair. Ruth gets an idea in her head about buying life insurance for Albert and convincing Judd to knock him off. Meanwhile, Ruth, Judd and Albert seem to be soused all the time. Judd and Ruth sickeningly pull off their murderous scheme, but are such drunken bumblers the cops figure it all out within a matter of hours (minutes?) Rather to their surprise, or Ruth’s surprise anyway, they are sentenced to die in the electric chair.
At first I didn’t like this novel. The dialogue seemed too stagey, but sometime after the first hundred pages, the story became gripping, a mixture of Three-Stooges-like comedy and genuine tragedy, an exploration of the pain caused by murder. Two dim bulbs commit murder thinking it will be easy. However, the actual murder is much harder than they thought, harder still because they are nearly blind drunk. And their trial and condemnation is not that funny either. The Catholic thing? Hmm, I guess the story has a sort of holy conclusion with the description of the execution and their two bodies lying on slabs ready to be autopsied. In the end, I could hardly put it down.