This is a post in my 50 Nifty series, in which I’m reading through 50 books that embody each of the 50 United States. Find out why I’m doing this and which books I’m reading when (so you can read along) by checking out my first 50Nifty post, or else browse all 50Nifty posts by clicking here!
Leave Her to Heaven, Ben Ames Williams
Is anyone else of the opinion that a female villain can be even more frightening than a male one? I felt that way while reading Ben Ames Williams’ 1944 novel, which may be one of my favorite selections from the 50Nifty list so far. I read it in just a couple of days, and while reading, I kept imagining that it’d make a great movie.* I was also struck by the fact that it was written so long ago yet could still feel so contemporary (with a few changes, of course). Amazon.com’s description of the one-time bestseller is compelling:
“This classic bestselling novel [is] about a man who encounters a woman whose power to destroy is as strong as her power to love. . . . Ellen’s beauty was radiant, and Harland had been so struck with her personality and the strength of her character that he knew he could never leave her. When he found that she returned his adoration, he could marry her with joy, bothered just momentarily by a strange premonition. It was only later, when the premonition became a horrifying reality, that he realized the glowing loveliness of the woman he had married was the true face of evil.”
While only the beginning takes place in New Mexico, it so sets the stage for the rest of the book that the memories of that place permeate the entire novel. I am really glad this was included in the 50Nifty list, because it’s the type of book I’d never have happened across otherwise. Fans of Gillian Flynn will enjoy this book, if they can look past the few antiquated references and cultural components. If I had one criticism, it would be that many details, conversations, etc. were repeated later; helpful if you’re reading it slowly and forget what’s happened; not so helpful when you’re finishing it in two sittings. Overall, though, it was such a fun summer read!
*Evidently it did make a great movie: released in 1945, it boasts a 95% score on Rotten Tomatoes (although be warned: there are serious spoilers on the RT page, and there are evidently serious changes to the plot, as well).