The Love of a Bad Man by Laura Elizabeth Woollett
The women in Laura Elizabeth Woollett’s assured short-fiction collection The Love of a Bad Man are the kind that get under your skin and stay there. This collection offers readers an unusual and affecting reading experience, coupling true crime with literary fiction. Each story centres on a real-life woman enamoured with a ‘bad man’ – criminals from throughout the 20th century from across the USA, UK and Australia. Whether mistresses, accomplices, or victims themselves, these women all stand by the men in question, including Hitler’s young wife Eva Braun, Jim Jones’ first wife Marceline Baldwin, and the sister wives of Charles Manson, among many others.
While some cases are more well-known than others, Woollett’s skill as a writer ensures that no prior knowledge of each crime is needed to fall completely into each story. The book’s appendix details the historical information clearly and succinctly, but The Love of a Bad Man exists first and foremost as an engrossing (if sometimes disturbing) work of literary fiction. Woollett displays a great deal of talent in locating the reader in each setting – from a fugitive hideout in 1930s Joplin, Missouri (‘Blanche’), to the Saddleworth Moor in the 1960s (‘Myra’), to 1980s suburban Perth (‘Cathy’).
The collection seamlessly strings together an impressive range of voices, but the most remarkable aspect of The Love of a Bad Man is the degree of empathy displayed for each protagonist. While the majority of these women are involved, either directly or indirectly, in an array of heinous crimes (which makes for unsettling reading at times), Woollett presents each woman as complex and, to varying degrees, remarkably relatable. These are considered portraits of flawed and fascinating women, offering a mature depiction of the lengths to which some will go for the men they love.
The Love of a Bad Man is an accomplished and engrossing collection from a young Australian literary talent. Laura Elizabeth Woollett is refreshing, challenging and utterly unique and I’m already looking forward to her next achievement.
Stella Charls is the marketing and events coordinator for Readings.