three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
13-Nov-Dec-2004
By: 
Liza Ward
user_rating: 
0

A-OutsideValentineIn 1958, two messed-up teenagers, Caril Ann Fugate, 14, and Charles Starkweather, 19, left a trail of blood across Lincoln, Nebraska, before they were caught near Valentine. Outside Valentine, based on their senseless killings and the psychological aftermath of such brutality, fictionalizes this haunting legacy through a trio of voices. Caril Ann recounts her reckless lust for Charles, a James Dean admirer who led their aimless killing spree. In 1962, an insecure teenage Susan ("Puggy") Hurst is obsessed with Caril Ann and Charles’ desperate love and with the boy next door, Lowell, who was orphaned by the killers. And, in 1991, Lowell, an antiquities dealer in Manhattan, tries to address his painful past—before it’s too late. Note: the author’s grandparents were killed by Starkweather and Fugate.
Henry Holt. 304 pages. $23. ISBN: 0805075984

Elle 4 of 5 Stars
"… [an] impeccably drawn first novel. … Ward’s feat lies less in her dynamic switching among the interconnected stories than in her astonishingly poetic yet palpable prose."

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Ms. Ward is the first person to look at the crimes not only from the perspective of those who committed them but also from the perspective of someone whose life was irrevocably altered by them. … Unlike the Clutters, the Kansas farm family at the center of [Truman] Capote’s nonfiction novel, there has never been an attempt to restore, at least in a compelling literary way, the lives that Starkweather took, and thereby give the story more than one voice, more than one dimension." Cathy Horyn

Denver Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Well-written in spite of often dubious similes, the novel with its textbook ending, at once inevitable and disturbing, packs a wallop. That it was inspired by the experiences of the author’s grandparents makes its premise all the more poignant." Sybil Downing

Hartford Courant 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The delicate material serves as the foundation for a horrifying tale about a devastating American crime, but also about the lives that are transformed by the inexplicable violence, and eventually, the love that wants so desperately to pull them through. … It’s sometimes unclear who’s real and who’s not in this book. Certainly, the killers are." Helen Ubinas

Houston Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Liza Ward’s fictionalized version (the Wards are called the Bowmans) at first feels awkward. The reader feels thwarted not knowing what is truth and what is fiction. … What Ward effectively shows is that tragedy keeps on happening." Martha Liebrum

People Weekly 3.5 of 5 Stars
"… improbably sympathetic, fictionalized portrait. … This book is not for the fainthearted." Laura Italiano

Critical Summary

Popular culture has engraved the Starkweather killings in successive generations’ collective memory with Terrence Malick’s 1973 film Badlands and Oliver Stone’s 1994 Natural Born Killers. There’s no dearth of nonfiction accounts, either. Ward, however, reinvents the subject in her first novel. Drawn from the murders of her well-to-do grandparents (parents of her father—the fictional Lowell) by Starkweather, Ward reimagines the tragic chain of events through three pairs of eyes. Caril Ann’s account is the most riveting, though Lowell’s shows the lasting psychological effects of violence. It’s a chilling, bloody true-crime tale, confused somewhat by the weaving plot and unclear overlap between fact and fiction. Flaws aside, Outside Valentine reminds us that senseless violence never ends.