The Murderer’s Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers, published by St. Martin’s Griffin on February 1, 2011, 320 pages.
The Murderer’s Daughters grabs you by the hand and pulls you into the lives of Lulu, ten, and Merry, five, from its very first page! Strong analogies like a neighbor whose “giant head resembled an anvil” and “the little coffin of a bedroom that Merry and I shared” make it interesting and show the prowess of its author. Lulu pretends, in the poverty and chaos of her own life, that she’s actually the mayor’s daughter, compelling us to feel for her under the reign of pin-up girl Mama, who lacks tolerance for her growing girls and sends them to Harry’s Coffee Shop for dinner. “Mama don’t cotton to anything smacking of retrospection,” believes Lulu, and Lulu resents her baby sister Merry’s good looks, that Mama admires, and knows that “Mama was used to getting what she wanted.” All of this does not prepare her for the tragedy of her father murdering her mother and stabbing her little sister Merry while drunk over an argument about money.
Groups of chapters “told” alternatively by Lulu and Merry give us different perspectives on their situation. Throughout, Ms. Meyers’ attention to detail is astounding and helps us visualize every single sentence. “Remember, Lulu, in the end mothers are always right. No one else tells you the truth,” Mama had announced, but without Mama around to tell them anything they wondered why their father had attacked their mother and why, after he was imprisoned for this act, they were alone. Merry, who had always loved her father, visited him with her grandmother, but Lulu adamantly refused to go along. Their relatives then sent them to an orphanage,
The Duffy-Parkman School For Girls, which is filled with the meanness of the disenfranchised who steal, call each other names, and cut off Merry’s pony tail while she’s sleeping. “I hate it here…..I’d rather be dead than live here,” Merry tells Lulu. “Everything turns ugly here. We’re just going to have an ugly-ugly life.”
But Lulu talks to Anna Cohen, a retiring worker at Duffy, and Anna decides to take them into her rich home and foster them, since her own children are grown. Lulu eventually goes to medical school and Merry studies criminal justice in college and they’re no longer known as The Murder Sisters. Lulu meets Drew and has “A good dream, with men as knights, protectors, healers” and feels that “For the first time in my life I was somewhere other than alone in my head,” and she eventually marries him and has children with him. Merry works as a parole officer and has an affair with a married man, Quinn, from whom she finds it almost impossible to disengage.
The Murderer’s Daughters broaches the question of whether one ever recovers from a childhood tragedy, and whether the situation hinges on the kindness of other people. Are we all always alone, despite our interactions with others? What is the nature of nurture, and is the survival instinct hereditary, higher in some than in others? Lulu thinks, “The past trapped us…….we remained prisoners of our parents’ long-ended war, still ensnared in a prison of bad memories, exchanging furtive glances, secrets known and secrets buried flashing between us.”
Life brings Lulu and Merry another major threatening situation, changing them and those around them significantly. The murderer’s daughters decide to go on defined by themselves rather than by their father’s past actions. After such an intense reading experience, it’s difficult to let their world go! This novel is skillfully written and conceived by Ms. Meyers to unlock everyone’s emotions. Highly recommended as a sensitive portrayl of those who act rashly and those who don’t, and how both try to get along in this world.
Reviewed by Christina Zawadiwsky
Christina Zawadiwsky is Ukrainian-American, born in New York City, has a degree in Fine Arts, and is a poet, artist, journalist and TV producer. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts Award, two Wisconsin Arts Boards Awards, a Co-Ordinating Council of Literary Magazines Writers Award, and an Art Futures Award, among other honors. She was the originator and producer of Where The Waters Meet, a local TV series created to facilitate the voices of artists of all genres in the media, for which she won two national and twenty local awards, including a Commitment to Community Television Award. She is also a contributing editor to the annual Pushcart Prize Anthology, the recipient of an Outstanding Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Library Association, and has published four books of poetry. She currently reviews movies for , music for , and books for .