KIRKUS REVIEW OF DO YOU KNOW HOW TO FLY?


KIRKUS REVIEW

Kuhn’s debut true-crime story shows how a violent man’s life led him to death row.

The author uses interviews and other sources to piece together the life of Delmer Smith, a seasoned career criminal awaiting execution in Florida. Smith was born in Detroit in 1971, on the cusp of the city’s economic decline. By age 14, he was convicted of raping a woman at a carwash where he worked. The 18 months that he spent in a juvenile reformatory dashed any possibility of rehabilitation; instead, he learned “how to be more proficient as a criminal” as he became “a creature without a conscience.” As a young adult, Kuhn writes, Smith carried out burglaries, carjackings, and bank robberies, which eventually led to a 15-year incarceration. After his second prison stint, he moved to Florida; there, Kuhn writes, Smith assaulted and beat multiple women—all the while leading a double life as a “wise and loving uncle” to his two nieces. Eventually, the violence led to a murder conviction. The author interviewed many of Smith’s victims and found that the women were now “desperately seeking someone or something to fully trust again.” Thanks to these firsthand accounts, readers receive a nuanced portrait of a predatory man. Kuhn’s decision to jump between accounts of Smith’s early life and present-day interviews is an effective one; by regularly pulling readers back to the present, he reminds them of the painful, enduring impact of his subject’s actions. Moreover, Kuhn shows a great deal of sensitivity when recounting the crimes, evoking deep pathos instead of graphic sensationalism. That said, the book does include some unnecessary background information, including three pages on Smith’s birth alone; it also bafflingly overuses section breaks, which disrupt the otherwise strong narrative flow.

A thoughtful, engaging account of a brutal life and the carnage that it left behind.

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Eric the Field Mouse conti.


Eric sat up in the smother of hay and looked at the two other mice whose faces had emerged from behind a pile of damp fiber. “I told you he would wake  this day,” said the one to the right. “I cast stones and they said it would be today.”

“Oh shut up,” said the one to the left. “What do you know about stone casting.”

“Ha, more than you.”

Slowly  the both emerged from the shadows.  “You’ve been asleep a long time,” they both said almost in unison. “Mind if I touch you,” the one of the right said and extended a paw.

“Who are you and where I am I,” Eric said pulling back as he realized that both of these field mice were much larger than he, almost like rats.

“Ah, you don’t need to worry yourself about who we are but as far as where you are well, that is another matter.”

“And the time. The time and day of the year is important.”

“Fine,” Eric said angrily. “Where am I. Isn’t this Farmer Gragers’  farm?”

“Yes, but another time and day and you’ve travelled here. You would think you have come forward a hundred years but in reality you slid sideways. We tell every arrival that they have gained a hundred years. It is just easier that way.”

“Yes,  Easier.”

“How so? Well, when are able to you will see and find you are different.”

“Yes,” the one on the right said excitedly.

“Can I tell him where he is?”  The two looked at each other  and then said, “Outside, just down the road is the town of Llandia. Do you know it?”                                                                                                                                                   1/13/17 Copyright Gordon Kuhn Unedited Text.