The Historical Novel

I am currently reading a book that was recommended by a friend, The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson. I was amazed to realize that I had never heard of H.H. Holmes, a serial killer active just blocks away from the site of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, also known as the White City. This maniac killed possibly as many as 200 people during his murderous rampage, yet, we hear more about Jack the Ripper, who slayed five women a few years earlier. Half of the book goes into the intricate planning of the fair, while the other half gives the grisly details of Holmes’s kills.

What I find fascinating about this book is Larson’s ability to provide historical details in a fictional fashion. In other words, the book kind of reads like a novel. I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a novel set in the 1940s, but the idea of researching small and large facts is daunting. The author has to get it right or the story won’t ring true.

Some of the best historical novels I’ve read are: Gone With the Wind (M. Mitchell), Outlander (D. Gabaldon), The Lacuna (B. Kingsolver), The Tea Rose (J. Donnelly), and The Time In Between (M. Duenas). Not only do these authors tell compelling stories, the historical detail immerses the reader in the past.

Maybe I’ll try writing one. Someday.

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