I’ve been seeing copies of Caleb Carr’s The Alienist everywhere lately. It’s on display at Barnes & Noble. People are reading it on the subway. Hell, when I was at jury duty yesterday, there was a fellow juror-to-be reading it. And, for the most part, these copies aren’t the old mass market paperbacks, like the one I have…these are brand-spanking-new, big damn trade paperbacks. What’s up, guys?
I loved The Alienist. It was the first modern historical novel I ever read (one could argue that something like The Three Musketeers is also an historical novel), and it formed my opinions and expectations of that particular genre. It was set in an interesting period–NYC in the 1890s, when old and new were still struggling for dominance. It included actual historical figures, like Teddy Roosevelt, J. P. Morgan, and William Randolph Hearst. It gave you a good idea of the way things were without trying to teach you any important lessons (I can not stress enough how important it is for a book to NOT try and teach me something…if I wanted to learn, I’d go to school. Okay, book? Okay.) On top of all of this, it was about a serial killer. But, for a post-Silence of the Lambs world, there was a twist. Like the real-life case of Jack the Ripper, Carr’s serial killer was operating at a time when there was no such thing as “serial killers.” Most of the conflict in the novel comes from not only the killer, but also from the clash between the police–who are using tried and true 19th century investigative procedures–and a doctor who specializes in the new science of psychology (at the time, crazy people were said to be alienated from the rest of society…and those who studied them, therefore, were called “alienists”).
Anyways…The Alienist is a pretty kick-ass book. But, it’s a book that came out almost 15 years ago. Sure, it spent two years on the bestseller list, but why is it suddenly all over the place again? Did Oprah mention it? Is there a movie coming out? Are one of the Survivors reading it?