Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion: A Sordid Affair...

Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Girl convinces boy to murder her jerk husband. While not your standard love story, it is an easily recognizable literary plotline. And Ron Hansen's new novel A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion deftly chronicles a famous real-world instance of such a story of manipulation and murder.

Dateline: New York City, 1925. Voluptuous Ruth Snyder, secure in her sex appeal and her ability to manipulate men, begins a torrid affair with brassiere or corset salesman Judd Gray. Both are unhappily married — Ruth because she's abused, Judd because he's bored. Over the course of several alcohol-soaked rendezvous (Hansen makes clear how easy it was to get around Prohibition) and trysts at the Waldorf-Astoria, Ruth slowly breaks down Judd's moral defenses, convincing him that he really has no other choice but to help her kill her husband.

The last section of the novel, to me, was the most fascinating, as Hansen departs a little from the fiction of Ruth and Judd's relationship, and carefully recounts (from newspaper accounts and other primary sources) the trial and the publicity circus around it. Think OJ Trial of the '20s. And if you've read Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy (which Hansen mentions in Guilty Passion), you're familiar with how well this narrative structure can work. It reads like non-fiction, and it's absolutely riveting.

I'd highly recommend this slim novel, especially if you're not familiar with Ron Hansen, who is a vastly underrated novelist. This novel's a perfect example of what he does best — turning a footnote of history into a rich, elegant novel. My biggest complaint about this book is the cover — which earned me more than one dirty looks whilst reading in public. But A+ for the novel itself! 


  1. I want to read this one so badly! I need to make sure it's on my wishlist!

  2. I have this on my wish list but sort of forgot what it was about so I'm glad to see your review and how you liked it! I actually like the cover... It's different but definitely is something I'd not want to read in public lol!

  3. Greg this sounds fantastic! I love books set in New York and I'm captivated by all things 20's. I can't imagine I'd be disappointed after your glowing review.

  4. I like the cover! And I like everything I've read by Ron Hansen -- I enjoyed Mariette in Ecstasy and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. I will definitely be reading this one. He's getting addicted to long titles, isn't he?

  5. I believe this is the story that "Double Indemnity"--both the book and movie--is based on.