Thursday, March 17, 2011
THE MURDERER'S DAUGHTERS by Randy Susan Meyers (2009) St. Martin's Press, 307 pages
Randy Susan Meyers (@randysusanmeyer) joins the list of fabulous women writers whose work I've discovered through the heady cyber company of the book community on Twitter: @AmyMacKinnon @rosannecash @clairecookwrite @robin_black @angie_abdou @julieklam and @EmilyMandel--I've reviewed books by all of them here on my blog.
I've been especially keen to read Meyers' novel knowing that it explores that complicated relationship between a father and his children after he commits a heinous and violent crime.
My mother was raised to believe her father was dead when the truth was he was in prison for fraud, a fact she discovered quite by accident when she was in her early twenties when she met his brother. I know how deprived she felt when the prison chaplain returned her letter insisting that she was better off not knowing the man her father had become. And, though she forged a relationship with her uncle, she never did meet her father, even after he had served his time, because he was too ashamed about abandoning her when she was just a child. It is heartbreaking even now many decades later.
When THE MURDERER'S DAUGHTERS opens in July 1971, Lulu is nine going on ten (her birthday is the next day) and her younger sister Merry is almost six. One night their estranged father pounds on the apartment door and demands that he be let in to talk to their mother. Lulu explains that her father "wanted things he couldn't have" perhaps most of all "he hungered" for her mother and her "pin-up girl façade." Knowing that she's not supposed to let her father into the apartment, Lulu weakens when he reassures her using her pet name: "Don't worry, Cocoa Puff. Mama won't get mad. I promise."
What transpires as a result is shocking and traumatizing. Not only does their father kill their mother, but he also wounds Merry, who spends swaths of time alone in hospital because of the narrow-minded attitudes of her mother's relatives. For a time the girls are raised by their grandmother, but when she dies and no relative will saddle themselves with the responsibility and stigma of the murderer's daughters, Lulu and Merry are put in an orphanage, where they learn to fend for each other at all costs. Even when the girls are fostered out to a wealthy New York doctor and his social worker wife, they realize that they can only really rely on each other.
Told over the course of 30 years, THE MURDERER'S DAUGHTERS is an unconventional bildungsroman that offers what feel like emotionally true perspectives from both the victims and the criminal who tries desperately to make amends.