1994 Book of the year
1. The Last Train to Memphis
Peter Guralnick (Little, Brown, $24.95) This masterful biography, subtitled The Rise of Elvis Presley, liberates the singer from his tomb of tabloid tawdriness and gives him the credit he deserves as one of the 20th century’s most influential and enduring artists. Guralnick does this by keeping his prose and his story simple — by focusing tightly on the facts of Presley’s life (with a lot of new research) and telling the tale with a modesty that matches the shyness of the King.
2. The Alienist Caleb Carr (Random House, $22)The Silence of the Lambs with horse-drawn carriages and cobblestones: That just begins to suggest what Carr has pulled off in this haunting detective story set in 1890s New York. Combining the historical novel with a slashing thriller, Carr mixes eccentric original characters with such real-life figures as Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt.
3. Family Ian Frazier (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $23) In the wake of his parents’ deaths, author Ian Frazier went looking for his roots and ended up penning this absorbing account of his family from the 17th century on. We learn that his relatives included slave-ship captains, and how forces of history like the Civil War and Prohibition shaped his forebears’ fates. Closer to home, Frazier reconstructs the setbacks in his own parents’ lives. Compelling in its commonness, it’s a tale about one family, and yet, in some ways, all of us.
4. The Hot Zone Richard Preston (Random House, $21) A standout in the cataclysm category, this book revisits the killer virus territory of Stephen King’s The Stand with one terrifying difference: The story is real. Journalist Preston takes us from a cave in Kenya where a French expatriate hiker contracted a relative of the deadly Ebola virus in 1980, to a Virginia suburb where, 10 years later, a case of Ebola broke out among a group of lab monkeys before it was contained. With its graphic descriptions of victims who ”crash and bleed out,” this book will breed bad dreams — or keep you up at night wondering when the next outbreak will strike.
5. Shot in the Heart Mikal Gilmore (Doubleday, $24.95) Gary Gilmore, executed in 1977 for mass murder at age 36, is the subject of this deeply thoughtful memoir by his brother, journalist Mikal Gilmore. Mikal tries to make sense of Gary’s sordid, media-exploited life, never justifying or excusing his brother’s behavior.
6. Remembering Satan: A Case of Recovered Memory and the Shattering of an American Family Lawrence Wright (Knopf, $22) This harrowing nonfiction book tells the story of an Olympia, Wash., father of five — a deputy sheriff and chairman of the local Republican party — accused by his family of 15 years of incest, gang rape, baby killing, and satanic ritual abuse. Author Wright interviewed nearly everyone involved in the case and arrives at fascinating revelations about how the ”recovered memory” movement may be tearing families apart.
7. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil John Berendt (Random House, $23) True-crime story meets travel book in Berendt’s delightful account of the eight years he spent living part-time in Savannah, Ga., collecting a menagerie of colorful Southern acquaintances — including a drag queen and an inventor whose work made the flea collar possible. The case of an antiques dealer who is the only person in Georgia’s history to be tried four times for the same murder takes up half of the book, which satisfies like the best fiction.