A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion by Ron Hansen

A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion by Hansen is based on a true story set in the 1920’s. It involves an affair that leads to the murder of one of the spouses- a common tale. I am not giving away the plot as it opens with the murder but flashes back to the circumstances that led to the murder of Albert Snyder, Ruth’s husband.  Ruth is an unhappy wife and is portrayed as a seductress, who has “been on more laps than a dinner napkin” reports Hansen. Judd Gray is a bra and corset salesman, with a reputation for being a player with a weak will and in a dull marriage. Ruth and Judd are both married to others when they began a torrid affair in 1925 and then decide to murder. Supposedly the movies The Postman always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity are based on this murder. The lead characters are knuckleheads and screw up  quickly, but I was mesmerized and recommend the book.

Apparently this crime marks the beginning of the tabloids in the 1920’s, the crazy paparrazi trying to cover the story. There were twelve major newspapers in New York City then, and each found its circulation double when there was an article about Ruth and Judd.  And so the couple became the focus of endless stories.  Palm-readers discussed the lines in Ruth’s hand that hinted at this horrible fate; their faces were examined by phrenologists to determine the hidden malignancies that caused the lovers to murder.  “The title comes from an editorial in the New York Daily Mirror written by Cornelius Vanderbilt III  in which he castigated the couple for the homicide based on ‘a wild surge of guilty passion,’ a phrase so juicy and apt that Hansen adopted it as his book’s title” ( by Janet Maslin,NY Times Review, June 5, 2011)

Another aspect of the story was how quickly the death penalty is implemented in those days- no wasting time. The readiness to betray each other was pretty astounding- confessions and accusations are quick to follow the murder. One reporter called the trial the Dumb Bell- Murder. Judd is conflicted about the murdering Albert, weak in so many ways, but once “Ruth-less” he finds God and religion in his prison cell.

Hansen had the facts but makes it a fiction tale because ” there was a great deal to be imagined.  We know they first met in Henry’s Restaurant on 36th and Sixth Avenue in June, 1925, but what was said there?”  Hansen fills in the blanks. The period of the 1920’s is fascinating, check out Ordinary People- Extraordinary Times @ joharaf.wordpress.com/author and then read the book.That’s my 2 cents, Tracy.

3 comments on “A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion by Ron Hansen

  1. susan says:

    hi tracey u might want to read Nathan Englander’ What They Say When They Are Talking About Ann Frank….great writing

    I am enjoying your blog….keep up the fine work.

  2. joharaf says:

    Hi Tracy, I’m reading an historical account of this murder and found an interesting bit of trivia: the inches of newspaper devoted to this case surpassed the coverage of the Titanic sinking, a record that held until the 1935 abduction of the Lindbergh baby. Hmm… there may be a backstory story in this for me. Thanks for bringing the book to my attention.

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