Picks and Pans Review: Killings

updated 02/20/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/20/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Calvin Trillin

Describing a town in Southern California, Trillin writes, "It has an oddly temporary look, as if it had been put up absentmindedly and might someday be dismantled in the same way." It is that kind of observation of places and people that makes Trillin's reporting so lively, no matter what the subject. Explaining why he chose murder as his subject, the author says, "I was never much interested in the violence involved.... These stories are meant to be more about how Americans live than about how some of them die." The pieces, which have appeared in the New Yorker over the last 15 years, range widely. In Kentucky a mountaineer shoots a filmmaker who is making a movie on his property. In West Chester, Pa. a young man who insists he was an undercover narcotics cop is tried for a killing. In Center Junction, Iowa some drunken louts in a seedy bar get into a fight over a hundred dollar bill and the resultant killing seems inevitable. In Southern California a Soviet defector who has turned evangelical Christian is found dead in a motel, where he had spent the night with a 17-year-old girl. It is a measure of Trillin's skill that he does not force any of these pieces to pat conclusions. Most of them end with questions unresolved. Trillin doesn't try to explain the inexplicable. His descriptions are vivid—and people and communities caught up in murder, of course, stand revealed in a special way. (Ticknor & Fields, $14.95)

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