Chosen by Megan Abbott
Megan Abbott’s new thriller, Give Me Your Hand, chronicles a rivalry between two female scientists who were teenage friends. Below, the award-winning author of Dare Me and You Will Know Me recommends novels inspired by true crimes.
An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser (Signet, $10). Based on the infamous drowning of a pregnant young woman in the Adirondacks in 1906, Dreiser’s 1925 novel is a wrenching study of class and aspirational longings in America. It was adapted for the screen in 1951’s ravishing A Place in the Sun.
Legs by William Kennedy (Penguin, $17). The master novelist of the demimonde takes on the violent death and gaudy life of gangster Jack “Legs” Diamond in this dazzling tale. Particular attention is devoted to the wild and woolly love triangle involving Legs, his wife, and his showgirl mistress. “How boring it is,” the narrator opines, “not to fire machine guns.”
Beloved by Toni Morrison (Vintage, $16). Morrison based her stunning, Pulitzer Prize–winning novel on the story of Margaret Garner, a runaway slave who killed her baby daughter rather than surrender her to a life in bondage. “I think if I had seen what she had seen, and knew what was in store,” Morrison said in a 1987 interview, “I would have done the same thing.”
The Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell (Back Bay, $15). This lyrical, haunting tale revisits a 1928 explosion at a dance hall in West Plains, Mo. Woodrell, one of our greatest prose writers, drew on his grandmother’s recollections and used them like glittering mirror shards to create an intricate jewel box of a novel.
Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates (Plume, $15). This slim, dark novella reimagines Sen. Ted Kennedy’s 1969 car accident on Massachusetts’ Chappaquiddick Island from the viewpoint of a fictionalized Mary Jo Kopechne, giving Kennedy’s passenger a voice that lingers with us. “Am I going to die?” she asks us at the start, “—like this?”
To Die For by Joyce Maynard (Open Road, $18). To borrow a phrase from Sweet Smell of Success, this one’s a cookie full of arsenic. Using the infamous Pamela Smart case as her inspiration, Maynard tells a deft, tabloid media–skewering tale of a bubbly, ruthless newscaster who manipulates her teenage lover and two accomplices into murdering her husband. ■