Stuff and Nonsense: Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis


6.19.2015

Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis


1892. Two young people are in love and secretly engaged to be married, but then, due to family interference, the engagement is broken and all contact between the two is stopped. A tragedy, yes, but these things happen. Except one of them isn’t going to give up on the engagement -- it’s marriage or death. Well, that happens.
And they’re lesbians ...

So, yeah, there’s that. Would I read a historic crime book about a nice straight, white Memphis boy who killed is ex-fiancé in 1892? Probably not. But give me a crime history with lesbians and I’d fight every library patron on the eastern seaboard to get my hands on it. Yes, I can feel you judging me. I judge me.

Alice + Freda Forever is one of those reads I’d definitely recommend to people looking for nonfiction that reads like fiction. There’s just so much of Alice and Freda’s story that seems impossible or improbable and yet is undoubtedly (and heartrendingly) true. A lot of that has to do with how lesbianism was viewed in the 1892 -- which is to say it wasn’t, because it simply didn’t exist (for anyone who wasn’t one, obviously).

That Alice and Freda planned to run away together, get married, and live as husband and wife was just so far beyond the ken of any reasonable person -- who could have grasped the possibility? Even Freda’s own brother, when he waited up with a shotgun that elopement night, was convinced there was really a man at root of the elopement scheme and that Alice was merely a pawn. If the girls were actually serious in their love, then clearly one or both of them had to be insane. And that’s what Alice’s trial is about. Not whether she killed Freda, but whether she’s sane enough to be tried for murder.

Although I frequently had to put the book down to facepalm over Alice’s painful dramatics (someone get the girl a therapist) and awkward machinations (she’s about as cunning as your average thwarted-in-love teenager, I guess), I absolutely adored this book. The story, while deeply tragic, was endlessly fascinating and I wanted more. (Indeed, I’d love to know why more of Alice’s testimony isn’t included. Is it destroyed or missing? And what of the poor patsy, Lilly Johnson? What became of Lilly after the trail?).

Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe (Pulp/Zest Books, 2014)

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