Title: The Murderer’s Daughters
Author: Randy Susan Meyers
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Release Date: January 19, 2010
Rating: 4 Bookmarks
Nat’s One-Sentence Synopsis: Randy Susan Meyer’s debut novel tells the story of two sisters trying to survive in the aftermath of their mother’s murder, at the hands of their father.
In the seconds it takes 9-year-old Lulu Zachariah to run to a neighbor for help, her father manages to murder her mother, stab her five-year-old sister, and make a feeble attempt on his own life. As little Merry recovers in a Brooklyn hospital and their mother is buried, their father is carted off to prison in Staten Island and Lulu begins to gather the pebbles of guilt that she’ll carry for the rest of her days.
The sisters are hastily dispatched to a orphanage by their mother’s frosty sister, Cilla, and so begins a hardscrabble life for Lulu and Merry. Childhood with their mother hadn’t been easy–Celeste wasn’t going for any Mother of the Year awards–and Lulu was well-versed in the role of the caretaker. The one thing Lulu didn’t count on was her sister’s insistence on having a relationship with, and visiting, their inmate father.
Through Lulu’s shrewd efforts, she and Merry are fostered by a pair of wealthy empty-nesters, thus securing them both academic opportunities and creature comforts. Lulu is determined to outrun her past, and doggedly studies her way into college and medical school in Boston, only to have Merry–and their father’s specter– follow behind.
The novel alternates voices–between Lulu and Merry–and spans more than 30 years. Lulu’s repressed guilt over letting their father into the apartment after their mother expressly forbade it, continues to eat away at her. While she has created an alternate history for herself–telling people her parents were killed in an accident–her sister continues to visit and write to their father.
The more dependent Merry becomes on Lulu, and later her husband and children, the bigger their father looms. Lulu can never get any distance from him because she’s tethered to her sister who is tethered to their father and their past. The entire time I read this novel, I envisioned Lulu trying to swim to the surface of the ocean, dragging a line from her leg to which her sister was hanging, from which their father clung, like an anchor dragging them all down to the ocean’s floor.
As the novels draws to a close, Lulu comes face to face with the fact that she can’t outrun or bury her past and confronting it might be the only way to get some closure. The Murderer’s Daughters was a compelling read, and I’m surprised there wasn’t more buzz about it online.
While the novel did drag a bit in the sisters’ later years, the character development and subplots held my interest even when I grew frustrated with Lulu’s type-A personality or Merry’s needy one. Meyers also managed capture credible voices for her child narrators. There were a few melodramatic scenes, but on the whole this novel is well written and engrossing.
The Murderer’s Daughters is an ideal selection for a women’s book club and a reading group guide is included. Additionally, Meyers may also be available for book club call-ins or visits (if the club is in the Boston area).