An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

This story starts with a very poor Griffith family being Christian missionaries and singing on the streets. The oldest son in this family Clyde desperately wants to escape poverty and therefore left his family to work in Kansas city at a very luxurious hotel. While he was working there, he and his friends were in an accident that killed a little girl which prompted him to escape to Chicago. There, he met his wealthy uncle and appealed to him to ask if he can get a job in his collar company. Moved by his sincerity and svelte manner, Samuel Griffith agreed.

Thus, in New York Clyde witnessed the lives of the upper society after meeting his cousins Gilbert, Myra and Bella. Through Bella, he also met her friend Sondra Finchley whom he immediately has fallen in love with but due to his penury again, recoiled from courting her. After being switched from the shabby shrinking room to the sewing department, Clyde met a very pretty factory girl named Roberta, they quickly fell in love. However, as time passes Clyde found himself in love with Sondra Finchley, who wants to revenge Gilbert for his complacence also fell in love with Clyde later on. Avid to get rid of Roberta who was pregnant, Clyde unintentionally struck her on a boat when they were on a trip and thus let her drown while he could have saved her. Being captured, later on, Clyde was sentenced to death at last.

Personally, I didn’t enjoy reading this novel too much because of its straightforwardness. There weren’t a lot of surprises and twists in the plot. Greed and inhumanity prompted by money seeping into each character were too ostentatious as to paint a sheen of unreality on them. I wish murder plot could be more carefully planned, thus causing the police to take more time in investigating the crime and potentially create some more suspense.

-Coreen C. 

An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky: 9780553211757 | Books

Raskolnikov, a poor university student, lived in a small five-story apartment in a poor Petersburg slum. He had been forced to drop out of law school because he could not afford his tuition, and now lived off the money his mother and sister had saved from a tight budget. He hasn’t paid his rent for a long time. Of late the landlady had not only stopped feeding him, but was pressing him very hard for rent. Then he met Marmeladov, a junior civil servant. Marmeladov was driven to despair by unemployment, and his eldest daughter Sofia was forced to become a street prostitute. Raskolnikov did not want to be like Marmeladov, but he wanted to do something to prove that he was a very extraordinary man. The proprietress of the pawnshop, not far from where he lived, was a usurer, merciless. One night, while she was alone, Raskolnikov broke into the house and killed her. Raskolnikov, in a panic, killed the landlady’s half-sister, who was returning.

The next morning he received a summons from the police. He was horrified, but was relieved to learn later that he was chasing after the money he owed. As he was leaving, he overheard the officer talking about last night’s murder and passed out to get the officer’s attention. When he regained consciousness, he went home and was bedridden for several days, before recovering. After the murder, Raskolnikov, unable to get rid of his fear because of the painful conflicts in his heart, felt that he had lost all his original good feelings. This was a punishment of conscience more severe than the punishment of law. He was conscious that he had failed. So he came to Sofia in anguish of heart, and, inspired by Sofia’s religious ideas, told her the truth and the motive of the crime. Persuaded by Sonia, he turned himself in to the police. Sentenced to eight years of hard labor, Raskolnikov traveled to Siberia. Sofia was soon there too. The two met early one morning by the river. They are determined to have faith in God, to suffer all kinds of sufferings in a penitent mood and to gain spiritual rebirth.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

With a plan to hide, paranoia to battle, and friendships to question, a group of five college students deal with the psychological punishment of murdering their sixth member: Bunny Corcoran.

The Secret History, by Pulitzer Prize winner Donna Tartt, is deep, fascinating, and full of aesthetic-driven description. Richard Papen, a poor college student from California, transfers to Hampden College in Vermont in order to escape his old life. There, he can’t help but be entranced by a group of mysterious young adults that saunter around the campus disconnected from the rest of the student body. Belonging to the highly exclusive Classics major taught by Julian Morrow, those five students have a divine air about them that Richard can’t resist. Securing his spot in their class, Richard is dragged into much more than a new group of friends: relationships full of hidden truths, a wild secret to keep that he never saw coming, and brewing plot of even more horrible proportion. Join Richard as he learns what friendship with Henry Winter, Francis Abernathy, Bunny Corcoran, and the Macaulay twins really means.

From the overlying theme to direct references, Donna Tartt draws heavily from Fyodor Dostoyesky’s Crime and Punishment. Both stories deal with how a seemingly justified murder affects the murderer’s mental state, driving them to extreme paranoia and desperation for relief. Both books open with a murder, Crime and Punishment’s happening about 20% of the way in while The Secret History‘s is described in the prologue. While Crime and Punishment reads chronologically, The Secret History tells the reader about the murder first, then flashes back months before, carrying through the murder and on to what happens after. Having just read Crime and Punishment, the parallels stand out. Reading about a variety of characters’ reactions in The Secret History is far more interesting than that of the sole guilty soul in Crime and Punishment.

Donna Tartt’s writing style is beautiful, oftentimes bringing me to pause and reflect. I grew to care so much about her tragic characters, and her writing brought me to be truly shocked or pitiful or furious right when she wanted me to be. I couldn’t predict any of the twists this book offered, which is a sign of a well-written story. This new adult/murder mystery novel was thrilling to read, and it’s a story that will last with me for a long time. Thought-provoking, genius, and beautiful, The Secret History is well worth the read.

-Abby F., 12th Grade

The Secret History by Donna Tartt is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive and Hoopla.