Murder and Other Acts of Literature Summary

Murder and Other Acts of Literature

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Great writers and plots dealing with crime are not strangers to each other. Charles Dickens (GREAT EXPECTATIONS, [1860-1861]), Victor Hugo (LES MISERABLES, [1862]), and Fyodor Dostoevski (CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, [1886]) all wrote novels in which criminals and crime are central to the plot. Crime and criminals also attracted masters of the short story. MURDER & OTHER ACTS OF LITERATURE, a collection of twenty-four short stories—twenty-one written in English, three translated from their native language—includes the writings of John Cheever, Nadine Gordimer, James Thurber, Edith Wharton, Alice Walker, and Virginia Woolf, among others. The authors come from four continents and write over a span of more than a century. Although murder, robbery, rape, and other crimes are central to most, but not all of these stories, it would be misleading to classify these contributions to literature simply as mysteries or crime fiction. As might be expected from writers of this caliber, these are really character studies, often providing profound, sometimes very disquieting insights into the human psyche.

The editorial apparatus is minimal. There is a brief and not particularly informative foreword. The sequence of the stories in the book appears random. Editor Michele Slung makes no effort to put the individual stories in the context of the author’s work nor does she systematically tell the reader if, when, or where a story was first published. Some of this information can be discerned from the acknowledgments for those works still under copyright given at the end of the book. It is as if Slung wanted to be certain that she was not accused of being didactic.