Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Murderer's Daughters Examines the Effects of Family Violence on Children

The Murderer's Daughters was one of my vacation reads. (One of only three books I read that week -- I expected to read much more, but highly underestimated the time constraints of a huge, extended family vacation. We were beaching and swimming and running around with kiddos much of the time, which was fabulous, but didn't lend itself to lots of reading time!)

You know that phenomenon where you learn about something for the first time, then that same idea or concept pops up everywhere you turn? (Most recently, it was for me a geographical location I'd never heard of. I learned about it on the Discovery Channel, then I read about it randomly in a book, then read about it in an article on the internet -- all in an 8 hour span!) My reading life has been a little bit like that lately. The topic of family violence keeps coming up. My mom would probably argue that it might have something to do with my reading choices, but I assure you I didn't choose this topic knowingly.

I had been listening to Lisa Gardner's Live to Tell, which was entirely creeping me out at night (so much so that I had to find another Audible title to listen to before bedtime to ward off nightmares!). It deals with family annihilation by a father's hands, among other difficult themes. I picked up Randy Susan Meyers' novel The Murderer's Daughters after reading about it on the book blog Bibliophile By the Sea. The audio version even made it onto her Best Books Read in 2010 list.

The novel follows sisters Lulu and Merry from childhood to adulthood. When the two are very small, their father commits an unforgivable act -- he murders their mother in front of the girls' eyes. He is immediately incarcerated, and the girls are passed from family member to family member, then put in various foster care placements. Lulu, the older sister, carries within her a deep-rooted hatred for her father and the terrible changes he forced onto his daughters. Merry, on the other hand, always a daddy's girl, continues to visit her father behind bars.

Most of the action happens at the novel's beginning (and in fact is detailed in the book's description). So the novel is less action-packed mystery and more in-depth psychological analysis of what happens to a family ripped apart by violence. Meyers does an excellent job of describing the plight of children who find themselves parent-less: the responsibilities of the extended family, the horrors of group homes, the loss of innocence and necessary growth of independence.

Also interesting was the contrast between the two sisters' reactions and emotional growth. Merry, while she is able to forgive her father to some extent (therefore showing a certain emotional maturity), is in many ways still a child -- even as an adult. She continues to lean on her sister for support, both monetarily and emotionally. She flits from one bad relationship (or one-night-stand) into another, never finding the right person to share her life with.

Lulu, in sharp juxtaposition to her sister, decides to do it all. She becomes a doctor, then meets a strong and stable man to marry and have children with. They buy a house and build an uber-normal life together. On most fronts, she seems to have it all. But Lulu continues to blame her father for his sins, which handicaps her emotionally. She constructs an elaborate lie for her past, telling everyone -- including her own daughters -- that her parents died in a car accident when she was young.

Lulu's daughters (and Merry's nieces) serve a crucial role in the climax of the novel. While both Lulu and Merry have become complacent in their separate ways of dealing with their father, Lulu's girls force the sisters to face their past together, as one. While they may never see eye-to-eye entirely, in a harrowing incident at the novel's end they must at least begin to work towards understanding.

The Murderer's Daughters is Meyers first novel. She has published short stories in various places and teaches writing at the Grub Street, Inc. Writers' Center in Boston.


  1. Thanks so much for this deep look at my book. Warmest regards!

  2. Great review! I've been wanting to read this one and you make it sound like even more of a must-read.



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