Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Friend's New Book

I need to preface what I want to say about Dead Center with a caveat. I have met Joanna Higgins, she lives in the same county I do, and both of us attended the murder trial this novel is based on. I was working as a journalist covering the trial, and she was there taking notes with the idea of a book. Several years later here it is and it just tore my heart out.

Joanna had written an earlier book A Soldier's Book based on a collection of letters written home by a Civil War soldier. When I read it I was stunned at her writing talent, even though I knew she had taught writing at universities and was quite a literary person. She has surpassed her earlier book with this one. I know no one who reads it will be disappointed. However, I must mention that my take on it with the background of knowing so well the real story may be different than someone who isn't familiar with what really happened.

Naturally, in writing this as fiction Joanna has changed locations, names, and many other details. She has written it from the viewpoint of the family of the accused murderer. Since I was bound to be objective during the trial, I too thought of it from their point of view, but Joanna has taken that further to just concentrate on how they felt, how they coped or didn't, and whether they were truly convinced of his innocence. As I read, I gained empathy for their situation and I'll admit I nearly cried as the book ended.

Even the dust cover of the book is absolutely perfect, showing a shotgun below blood spatter on the bold black of the letters. Once again Joanna Higgins has left me almost speechless with the thoughtfulness, empathy, and beauty of her prose. If I remember correctly, she writes some poetry as well, and this book strikes me as a long prose poem. The characters' thoughts and actions, with the exception of the accused murderer, ring so true I felt like I was in the rented house with them as the trial went on.

I highly recommend this treasure of a book, though I would remind you that I can't help being biased.

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