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Quiet Dell: A Novel Hardcover – October 15, 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (October 15, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439172536
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439172537
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (121 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #336,933 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Elissa Schappell reviews QUIET DELL

(Schappell is the author of Blueprints for Building Better Girls and Use Me.)

Jayne Anne Phillips is a dangerous writer. Fearless in her writing and fearless in the territory she stakes out, a vast shadowland populated by people young and old in the grips of obsession, seeking comfort, love, salvation.

In her mesmerizing new novel, Quiet Dell, Phillips returns to the scene of a real crime that occurred in the 1931, in a West Virginia town not far from where Phillips grew up. A crime that Phillips’ mother, herself haunted by memories of watching townspeople flocking to the scene, had told her about when she was a girl.

At the time the newspapers were full of sensational stories about Asta Eicher, a lonely young widow, and her three children, imprisoned and murdered by Harry Powers, a charming serial killer who seduced scores of women through lonely hearts columns all around the country with the promise of making them his wife.

Many are comparing Quiet Dell to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, and they do have much in common. Both are born out of a true crime, both contain photographs--Phillips also includes evidence such as court transcripts, the letters Asta and Harry Powers exchanged, as well as the lonely hearts club ad Powers posted in newspapers to lure his victims. And both books to differing degrees contain elements of fiction, although Capote might dispute that.

Quiet Dell is a fully realized work of fiction. Phillips deeply inhabits the characters of Asta, full of yearning, who carries on her correspondence with Powers in secret, and her children: daughter Grethe, son Hart, and the youngest and most intriguing, mysterious Annabel. The descriptions of Annabel’s mystical visions, suggesting as they do a life beyond the veil, possess the surreal poeticism that has become a Phillips’ trademark.

It is her creation of Emily Thornhill, an ambitious young reporter at the Chicago Tribune, whose obsession with the family’s disappearance and in particular Annabel, that fills out the novel.  Emily’s ambition, and her eagerness to make a name for herself in a man’s world, provides a powerful counterpoint to the society that was quick to shame Anna Eicher, and by extension all middle-aged women foolish and reckless enough to imagine they could find true love through the newspaper, or at all.

Though set in the 30s, this novel of alienation and the search for connection resonates with the digital age. Asta’s story is that of a lonely woman in the midst of an economic depression watching promise turn to dust, seeking connection and the possibility of love, turning to strangers who can write a pretty letter. The difference between then and now is we communicate not via the post but Internet. And sadly, the grisly horrors that are visited on this doomed woman and her children appear with sick-making frequency on our nightly news.

A reader, or this reader anyway, has to wonder what influence such a story had on Phillips as a girl growing up so close to where the Eichers died. Such terrible knowledge, so close to home, darkens the lens through which a person sees the world. It might inspire a fledgling writer to bunker down in her room with a pencil in the hopes of figuring it out. Who knows.

What I am sure of is this: Quiet Dell  is a gorgeous, masterful melding of fiction and non-fiction. A completely engaging read that rescues the Eicher family’s lives from the tabloids so that they live, really live, in our memories.

--Elissa Schappell


From Publishers Weekly

At the core of this sprawling new novel from the author of Lark and Termite is a series of real-life murders committed in 1931. A man calling himself Cornelius O. Pierson woos Asta Eicher, mother of three and recently widowed, in polished letters promising fidelity and financial security. After Asta disappears with Pierson, aka Harry Powers, the killer returns to Asta&'s home in Chicago to kidnap and brutally murder her three beautiful children. In Phillips&'s retelling, Emily Thornhill, a lovely staff writer for the Chicago Tribune, covers the case with her photographer colleague, Eric Lindstrom, and the Eicher family dog, Duty. She falls in love with the Eicher family banker, William Malone, who bankrolls much of the investigation, but she also becomes enthralled with the memory of the three dead children: simple Grethe; her brave brother, Hart; and their precocious little sister, Annabel. Phillips&'s plot is engaging, romantic, and fecund; her characters are beautiful, accomplished, and good—except for the bad guy, who is very bad indeed. The book veers dangerously close to melodrama, and the story drags when trying to stick too closely to the truth, but Phillips is a reader&'s writer. For every tedious page of the murder trial, mired in the story-lethal muck of facts, there is one of soaring lyricism. The best bits are Phillips&'s recreation of her characters&' dreams, and especially the ethereal afterlife of the enchanting young Annabel, who is only nine when she is killed in a muddy field in Quiet Dell, W.Va. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit Associates. (Oct.)

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Customer Reviews

Ann Rule would take a lesson from Ms Phillips!
Sandra C. Hofmann
Also, I found it odd that the author seeded the story with so many gay characters, seemingly without any historical basis in fact.
Steven Ferre
This was my first book by the author and I absolutely read it every minute until it was finished.
Wendy L Finn

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Sylvia P. on November 3, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is so promising in the first pages with its utterly gorgeous prose, expertly evoking a time that seems, from the 21st century, so simple and kind. The characters, especially Annabelle, actually glow and, in spite of the serene setting, the doom that awaits is palpable, breathing through the door of the warm home in which these characters live. There were a few paragraphs in the first pages that brought tears to my eyes. If Phillips were able to continue with this near perfect prose, she would definitely deserve the Pulitzer. The novel's plot is actually a rather fascinating tale. Unfortunately, once the main event occurs around which the novel is based, the entire thing falls apart and it's such a disappointment to readers, having been so enticed at the beginning. The journalist who covered the story is now the heroine and the story of the ensuing discovery of the murderer, his trial and his actions are now driving the action. In the meantime, the sub plots thicken and die, their purposes unclear, their actions unbelievable. As soon as the journalist meets the murdered family's banker, she succombs to him completely and falls in love within one paragraph. Come on! The point at which this happens is a harbinger of the tone and content to come: fantastical actions from all characters and events that are interesting only for their very lack of veracity. A street urchin who robbed the heroine and then is adopted by her is introduced and suddenly transformed into a pseudo-son--just
so we know the unlikeable heroine has a heart and is a real woman after all--and is just one of the many inane wanderings Phillips injects into the book to move it to its sappy and predictable final pages.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Donna S. Meredith on October 26, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Since I grew up in Clarksburg, I was interested in this novel about the Powers murder farm. The research Phillips put into the book is obvious and I really appreciated her effort to bring 1930s Clarksburg to life. Where the novel missed for me were the shifts to present tense and the metaphysical inventions of dead child Annabel flying around above the scenes and the lead reporter seeming to commune with Annabel in dreams. Also the affair between reporter Emily Thornhill and the banker didn't ring true in several regards: the ridiculously fast onset, and the copulation scene that takes place in a snowstorm outside near downtown Clarksburg. That said, the rest of the novel was fascinating.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Toni Colby on October 18, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Wow. What a wonderful book. If you are unfamiliar with this book, it is based on real life killer Harry Powers. He is also the killer depicted in that classic movie 'The Night Of The Hunter. Yes. That killer that Robert Mitchum played was based on a real killer. In real life he murdered more people than the movie depicts. They are pretty sure he committed more than he was convicted of as some of the women he corresponded with in the "lonely hearts" columns during the depression, just simply diappeared. They haven't been seen again after exchanging letters with this remorseless killer. He had no empathy, no compassion, no consciense. I'd like to thank the author for using the fiction story instead of non-fiction. She is able to give you the thoughts of the victims. Getting to know these people, places you there. You find yourself in depression America. You feel like a part of their lives. Like you were a friend. The author gives great attention to detail. This killer had no heart. Knowing the victims as you do while reading this book, the murders tear you apart. I want the author to know I've been reading my whole life and her book stands out as one of the best. I've read hundreds. So that is no small feat. Good job. If you decide buy this book, as I recommend, have plenty of kleenex handy, as the tears will flow.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By SRR on November 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Come with you Emily? Nothing can keep me from you. If he is your ward, your family, he is mine... are you crying? No need." "Oh," she said, "there is need. I love you so and believe in you, and now I love you more, which I did not think was possible."

If this is your idea of masterful dialogue and you have a penchant for stock, undeveloped characters, vapid gauzy semi-mystical prose, and woefully trite "love conquers all" themes set in unbelievable circumstances, this is the book for you. The true-life murders of the Eicher family by the serial killer Harry Powers were terrible events and to her credit Jayne Anne Phillips treats them with respect, allowing us to glimpse the tragedy and emotional wreckage without revictimizing them in fiction (except for some, one hopes, hypothetical yet banal and graphic scenes where Anna Eicher's husband uses her to work out out his repressed homosexuality - something one hopes was a creation of Phillips, though one wonders why it was necessary to the story except as a nod to the belief that contemporary literary fiction has to have something sexually edgy in order to be worthwhile). Yet if Phillips found intriguing news articles, she failed at building a convincing fictional narrative around the real-world events.

Instead we have the fictitious Emily Thornhill, the strong female central character who falls in love with a married man in what must be one of the least believable "meet cute" moments in fiction, the fictitious orphan Mason whose parents conveniently die so that he can be rescued and redeemed by the aforementioned Thornhill, the fictitious fellow reporter Eric, a closeted gay reporter with money and a "droll sense of humor," and the real-life William, the married banker who finds in soul mate in Emily.
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