Summary and book reviews of Outside Valentine by Liza Ward

Outside Valentine

by Liza Ward

Outside Valentine
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2004, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2005, 320 pages

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Book Summary

Every so often a novel comes along that is capable of redeeming the losses it so devastatingly conveys. Disturbing, bittersweet, and lyrical, this is a story of people torn apart by tragedy and yet, finally, transformed by love.

A debut novelist interweaves a trio of voices-haunting, dangerous, full of longing--mysteriously linked by a shocking crime and the search to heal the past

Many long years have passed since the winter of blinding white when Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate drove across the hushed midwestern landscape and left a trail of blood and pain. So why does Lowell, a Manhattan collector of antiquities, still dream of what happened, despite his wife's best attempts to draw him back and offer comfort? And who is Susan, the teenager who appoints herself a detective, piecing together the story of the murders while wondering if she'll ever be loved like Starkweather loved his girl?

And then there's Caril Ann herself, who takes us back to relive the ride she swears she could not control. It began on the day Charlie first saw her, dangling her bare legs off the edge of a tree house. It ended outside Valentine, Nebraska, on that night when she still believed that life could somehow go back to being normal . . .

Every so often a novel comes along that is capable of redeeming the losses it so devastatingly conveys. Disturbing, bittersweet, and lyrical, Liza Ward's Outside Valentine is a story of people torn apart by tragedy and yet, finally, transformed by love.

Chapter Two
1957

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. She peers at me and her fists are clenched. She cries, "Caril Ann, where is my math book?" There is no sense telling that girl in my mind where those schoolbooks got to, pages blowing, by the side of a road in Bennet, Nebraska. And of course Roe Street is always standing in the door of the outhouse with his belt in his hand and a hole in his head, blaming me for all that Charlie did.

I do not call these dreams because dreams are something you wish to have happened. Everyone knows how I never wished any of it. It was not my fault. From the very beginning it was never my fault, not even the skipping of school. People act a certain way when they are treated wrong, and I had already done the eighth grade. It was wrong of Roe to try and send me back.

The first day I saw Charlie behind our new ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Outside Valentine is a novel told in three voices, with three points of view. What are the unifying themes that tie the parts to a whole?

  2. When we meet Lowell in 1991 he is a man at the crossroads whose past has caught up with him. Susan insists that he retrieve the safe-deposit box but he avoids doing so. Why has he so totally isolated himself? What prompts Lowell to reevaluate his life at this point?

  3. When Susan pores over all the news items she has collected about Charlie and Caril Ann, what strikes her most is the love they share. She sees a photo where they seem all tangled up in each other. Her response is to wonder if she will ever love like that. Is Susan's search for love rewarded?

  4. ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Outside Valentine is an elegantly written and compelling book in its own right, but the story is given an extra edge by the fact that the author's paternal grandparents were two of the victims, and one of the fictionalized characters in the book is, apparently, based on the author's own father.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (261 words).

Media Reviews

Elle Magazine (lead review)

Ward's feat lies less in her dynamic switching among the interconnected stories than in her astonishingly poetic yet palpable prose.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this riveting literary suspense novel, first-timer Ward presents in lean, luminous prose a precarious world where true love can ravage as well as redeem, exploring a series of murders in Lincoln, Nebr., in the 1950s from the perspective of three narrators.

Booklist

Starred Review. In her stunning first novel, Ward makes a great empathic leap, recasting painful personal history as compelling fiction.

Library Journal

Ward's first novel, a reconstruction (through three separate story lines) of Charlie Starkweather and Caril-Ann Fugate's 1958 murder spree across five states, inspired a bidding war involving five publishers.

Author Blurb Kevin Canty, author of Honeymoon and other Stories and Into the Great Wide Open
A swift and beautifully written first novel about the lingering effects of violence and the power of love, to heal and to destroy. With extraordinary emotional accuracy, Liza Ward tracks the echoes of a murder across three generations and several lives, bringing them together in an ending both mysterious and musical. Outside Valentine seems to know all the secrets, and to be willing to tell them. Simply an amazing debut.

Author Blurb Sven Birkerts, author of The Gutenberg Elegies and My Sky Blue Trades, a memoir
Liza Ward runs a tight, thrumming line through her narrative, punching up scenes with a sharp practiced touch and bringing wise compassion to bear on the tragic events that unfold with such dark inevitability.

Author Blurb Anita Shreve, author of The Pilots Wife and All She Ever Wanted
An intricate and challenging novel that examines the inner lives of men and women swept up in a devastating American crime. Ward's portraits are harrowing, heartfelt and unforgettable.

Author Blurb Vendela Vida, author of And Now You Can Go
Written with confidence and grace, Outside Valentine tells an astounding story about how violence can propel us apart, yes, but how it can also bring us together in unexpected ways. Liza Ward has written an utterly gripping book.

Author Blurb J. Robert Lennon, author of On the Night Plain
Blunt, beautiful, and very scary, Outside Valentine proves that a murder doesn't end with death—it just goes on and on, staining generations, tolling across decades. It's a first novel with the weight of a tenth. Liza Ward has the ears of a wolf, the eyes of an owl, and a tongue as sharp as broken glass.

Reader Reviews

Diana

Astounding!
This is a story that reached out and touched my heart. I cried, laughed, was frightened, and felt love with this book. Ward really knew what she was writing. This book was exhilarating to the mind and to the soul. Reading this book was the best ...   Read More

Jenna Blum

I was the fiction editor at AGNI magazine when an excerpt from Liza Ward's OUTSIDE VALENTINE crossed my desk, and it raised the goosebumps on my arm that signify a true and unusual new talent. I told my senior editor that we had to snap up the story...   Read More

Albert Goldbarth

THis book has a tendency toward the not only melodramatic, but simplified understanding of lower class America that stems from obvious wealth. I think the author has obviously driven a hard point home about research: It doesn't always pay to know the...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Outside Valentine is an elegantly written and compelling first novel in its own right, but the story is given an extra edge by the fact that the author's paternal grandparents were two of the victims, and one of the fictionalized characters in the book is, apparently, based on the author's father.  

The Starweather/Fugate killings were the inspiration for a number of movies such as ...

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