Murder and Scandal in Depression-Era America: "Quiet Dell: A Novel" by Jayne Anne Phillips

Jul 31, 2014

On this edition of ST, we speak with Jayne Anne Phillips, the acclaimed fiction writer whose previous books include "Black Tickets," "Machine Dreams," and "Lark and Termite." In her newest book, just out in paperback, Phillips both explores and re-imagines a real crime that occurred in 1931, in a West Virginia town not far from where she herself grew up. Phillips tells us of this novel -- called "Quiet Dell" -- on today's program. As was noted of this work in a starred review in Booklist: "Phillips...presents an astonishingly effective novel based on a true crime that took place in her native West Virginia in the early 1930s, material that has been brewing in her consciousness for years. The facts in the case are startling. Asta Eicher is a struggling widow in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge and the mother of three children. A man calling himself Cornelius Pierson blows into Asta's life, and Asta entrusts herself and her family into this virtual stranger's 'care,' moving to Quiet Dell, West Virginia. Soon the Eichers are discovered murdered. Emily Thornhill, a distinguished reporter for the Chicago Tribune, has been asked to investigate by the president of the Park Ridge First National Bank, who managed Asta's meager finances. Emily thus travels to Quiet Dell, one character remarking, 'This story will be dark' Around a core of real people and events, Phillips has indeed drawn a sad -- yet irresistible -- story of the defenseless victims of a serial murderer who possesses the lack of conscience so often true to his kind. In fact, the truth of all of Phillips' characterizations is what lies behind this careful novel's compelling momentum." Also, you can view a "book trailer" for this novel here -- and can access the author's personal website at this link.