In 1957, Charlie Starkweather and his girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate went on a killing rampage, making the dark days of a brutally cold winter even darker. For days, they gripped the Midwest with a tangible fear. Charlie claimed that everything he did was for Caril Ann. She claimed that she did nothing wrong. Whatever their motives, their actions took the lives of many, changed many more, and touched almost everyone across the country in one way or another.
OUTSIDE VALENTINE is a tale written from three very disparate perspectives. Related at different points in time, the whole awful story of the bloody trail left in Starkweather's wake takes on dimension. It could scarcely be told in a better way. Liza Ward gives us a feel for the survivors' deepest thoughts, Caril Ann's insistent self-acquittal, and the appalling thrill that we get when we hear of such a shocking horror, deftly illustrating how we allow ourselves to lionize the monsters capable of unthinkably horrific crimes.
Caril Ann was 14 when Charlie found her in his tree house. That day sealed the fate of nearly a dozen people, whose only fault was being in the wrong place when she and Starkweather passed into their lives. The couple indulged their hatred, leaving a path of death and broken futures. A quote attributed to Charlie says it all: "The more I look at people, the more I hate them."
Five years after the murders, Puggy, a teenaged girl abandoned by her mother, finds herself obsessing over the story of Charlie and Caril Ann. She has built the two lovers into legendary figures in her mind. Secretly, she wishes for someone to love her the way Charlie loved Caril Ann. In a sense, she admires them --- until the reality of their mindless cruelty sinks in. One of Puggy's schoolmates lives next door to Lowell Bowman, who was away at boarding school when Starkweather and Fugate broke into the family home and killed his mom, dad, maid and dog. Puggy is transfixed by this brooding young man, claiming that she loves him even before she meets him. It becomes her goal to win his heart and hear the gruesome story of his parents' last hours.
Nineteen years further on, Lowell is still struggling to regain a normal life. He has pushed his wife away and never got close to his children, retreating to the easy comfort of liquor. He cares --- there is no doubt about that. He wants to reach out, but he fears Starkweather and Fugate destroyed a part of him, along with his family. And he wonders if he can ever get it back.
The author has a personal investment in this story. She lost her grandparents to the murderous pair nearly half a century ago. It is that very closeness to the crimes that gives Liza Ward's writing such power and poignancy. At one point, Caril Ann muses, "When I am half asleep and everything is dark, ghosts rise out of the prairie and swim across my eyes. The girl crawls up from the storm cellar with glass in her knee." It almost sounds like she has regrets. If Ward can make us care for Caril Ann, even just a little, imagine the humanity she can breathe into the victims. Two thumbs up for OUTSIDE VALENTINE.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 14, 2011
- Publication Date: September 1, 2004
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
- ISBN-10: 0805075984
- ISBN-13: 9780805075984