Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis

A well-researched and readable recounting of the 1892 murder of Freda Ward by her ex-fiancee, Alice Mitchell. The two girls were planning on running away and getting married, with Alice assuming the role of husband and dressing up as a man to get a job to support Freda. Their plan was foiled by Freda’s sister, Ada, who suspects that she’s about to run away and marry a man. Their lines of communication are cut off, and Freda returns her engagement ring that’s been inscribed “From A to F”. Alice decides that she must kill Freda because she can’t have her, and stalks her when she returns to town, running up to her and slicing her throat with the razor she stole from her father. Coe does an excellent job recreating the atmosphere of the trial, showing the bias of one newspaper versus another, and detailing the sexist portrayal of women in the courtroom (weak and faint-y and insane). She dives into the main underlying issue, that this courtroom is dealing with the struggle to become modern – women usually have no place there but in this case they were packing the seats, the judge continually reminded the women that he could banish them; the struggle for white man to continue to retain his dominance in the modern world when there were women chomping at the bit to take some of their responsibilities (see Alice Mitchell) or blacks asserting their economic independence (see the section on lynching that took place while Alice was in jail– white retribution for blacks trying to set up their own grocery store… and Ida B. Wells pens articles lambasting the events). Alice’s “defects” are trotted out one by one, her tomboyishness, her nosebleeds (called “vicarious menstruations” by one of the idiot doctors). Naturally, the five white male doctors declare Alice insane, since to think that you can have same-sex marriage was considered completely irrational in those days. She’s locked away for life in a sanitarium and it’s suspected that she takes her own life a few years later, although cause of death is the mysterious “consumption”.

The Miniaturist

This was a lackluster recommendation from a friend, for good reason. Another fairly mediocre book, but one I found myself reading all the way through. Set in Amsterdam, late 17th century, an 18-year-old girl arrives at her husband’s house only to find herself an ignored appendage of the household. The hubby prefers men (and we get a detailed In flagrante delicto scene, lovely) and comes to an understanding with his young wife. The husband’s sister dominates the household but has her own secret– she’s carrying the child of their black servant. Husband gives the wife a wedding present of a miniature house, and she sets out to furnish it, stumbling into the mysterious world of the miniaturist, whose powers of observation are beyond psychic. A heap of sugar goes spoiling in hubby’s warehouse and he’s set up by an old friend and an old lover. Punishment for sodomy is drowning, and we suffer through the beatings and trial to get to the point where he is dunked with millstones into the water, never to arise. The sister dies in childbirth (of course!) and the runaway servant returns to peep his child. Drama of a middling sort.

You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes: Photographs from the International Space Station

Apparently this was a blog turned into a book, which explains the “trying-too-hard” feel to the whole thing. Grainy pictures, weird groupings and commentary, this was a fairly sophomoric effort and I’m embarrassed for the author. Huge text nestled up against nearly 2-page spread– it’s just like one of the mediocre self-published photo books I endured viewing over the years at Blurb. Despite NASA not budgeting any time for photography, he seems to have devoted a lot of headspace to calculating exactly when he needed to be at the window for just the right shot.