Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Book Review: Alice + Freda: A Murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe

From Goodreads:
In 1892, America was obsessed with a teenage murderess, but it wasn't her crime that shocked the nation—it was her motivation. Nineteen-year-old Alice Mitchell had planned to pass as a man in order to marry her seventeen-year-old fiancée Freda Ward, but when their love letters were discovered, they were forbidden from ever speaking again.

Freda adjusted to this fate with an ease that stunned a heartbroken Alice. Her desperation grew with each unanswered letter—and her father’s razor soon went missing. On January 25, Alice publicly slashed her ex-fiancée’s throat. Her same-sex love was deemed insane by her father that very night, and medical experts agreed: This was a dangerous and incurable perversion. As the courtroom was expanded to accommodate national interest, Alice spent months in jail—including the night that three of her fellow prisoners were lynched (an event which captured the attention of journalist and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells). After a jury of "the finest men in Memphis" declared Alice insane, she was remanded to an asylum, where she died under mysterious circumstances just a few years later.
No issues at all with the quality of research and documentation used throughout this history.  It gives a great glimpse into life in Memphis in the 1890's and includes lots of thoughtful commentary on social mores and race relations in the South in the years following the Civil War.  Despite the flawless research and reporting, I have to say that something kept me from really connecting with the characters.  I felt like the author presented the facts well from the research she had conducted, but maybe there just wasn't enough information for a book-length examination?  I just never really got a grasp of who Alice and Freda were and why I should care about them.  It felt largely repetitious and didn't have much emotional pull to hold my interest.

Entertainment Value
Again, I just didn't connect with the characters enough to care about the outcome of the trial or to really get into their story.  I found the most interesting parts to be the commentary on society at the time and how race and gender were viewed as a whole.  While I enjoyed reading and considering how shocking this would have been at the time and how the population at large would have little context for even beginning to understand the emotions surrounding a same-sex attraction, I felt like even those portions were so repetitive that it got old after a while.

I don't regret reading the book and it was certainly researched and documented skillfully, but in the end it just didn't captivate me the way that I expected it to.  True crime/historical crime is a genre I typically enjoy, but this just didn't grip me the way true crime typically does.  I read it slowly and had no trouble putting it down when bedtime rolled around.  I'd recommend it to those who are particularly interested in the LGBT theme or the social aspects of the era, but I don't think it's a must-read by any means.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

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