Saturday, April 21, 2012

Ginger Strand's "Killer on the Road"

Ginger Strand is the author of Inventing Niagara, a Border’s Original Voices choice, and Flight, a novel. Her nonfiction has appeared in many places, including Harper's, OnEarth, The Believer, and Orion, where she is a contributing editor. She grew up mostly in Michigan and now lives in New York City, but spends a lot of time on the road.

Strand applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Killer on the Road: Violence and the American Interstate, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Killer on the Road, the most typical thing is the section break. I am addicted to section breaks. This is because I seem to be pathologically unable to go easy on myself and follow a single narrative thread. The entire book is symptomatic; it tells the entwined stories of the interstate highways and the serial killers who haunted them.

Chapter Three, in which page 99 falls, traces the Atlanta child murders of the late 1970s. Around thirty children (numbers differ), all of them black, most of them poor, were abducted and murdered in a few short years, during which the black community lived in fear. The story of those kids unfolds in the context of what the interstate highway system did to Atlanta, which was extreme. The murdered kids lived in a landscape that had been transformed by the interstate highway program and urban renewal. They lived in the same drab housing projects, played in the same dirty streets, disappeared from the same low-end shopping plazas, and turned up dead in the same abandoned lots and empty right-of-ways.

On page 99 itself, we see a family called the Bells being forced out of their home and into a public housing project by transit construction. Then, after the section break, we see how, across the new interstate, Atlanta was rebuilding its downtown into a shining beacon of commerce. The former black neighborhood of Lightning was demolished for hotels, office towers, shopping centers and a trade show complex, all of it walled off from the public housing nearby. A few years later, nine-year-old Joseph Bell would disappear, only to be found strangled in an abandoned school two weeks later. He was only one mile—but an entire world—away from the new Atlanta, the “city too busy to hate.”
Learn more about the book and author at Ginger Strand's website.

--Marshal Zeringue