Twenty-nine years ago this spring, Jeanine Cummins lost two of her cousins in a brutal attack on the old Chain of Rocks Bridge that spans the Mississippi River about 10 miles north of downtown St. Louis — now a popular pedestrian bridge. Her brother was also a victim in the incident. He survived, but the impact on the Cumminses and their loved ones reverberated for years.
In 2004, Cummins published a memoir about the aftermath of that crime, “A Rip in Heaven: A Memoir of Murder and Its Aftermath.” But the strong attention it got pales in comparison to the press Cummins’ latest book, a work of fiction titled “American Dirt” (January 2020, Flatiron Books), has garnered in recent days.
Oprah Winfrey endorsed the novel for her book club, and the New York Times’ book review gave it a rave. But not all of the press has been good. Some critics blasted it, saying its ascent came at the expense of authentic Latino voices. The outcry led Left Bank Books to cancel Cummins’ planned appearance on Jan. 26 at the Ethical Society of St. Louis.