The Murderer’s Daughters

The Murderer’s Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers
St. Martin’s Press

I can just hear the Brooklyn accent of the Jewish mother, “He’s no good for you.  You can do better.  You’re a pretty girl.  You’ll find someone.”  Well, Celeste, this time you should have listened to Mom. 

The story of Merry and Lulu, Celeste’s daughters, reads like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder over and over.  Mom is murdered, a sister is stabbed, dad goes to jail, and on and on and on.  The traumas, though innumerable, could still be managed with years of therapy.  It’s the inheirited sin that plagues the daughters most.  The father’s misdeeds mark them, Maybe the poison came from Zelda [dad’s mom].  And who knows where it’ll go next. 

Lulu relives Eve: she is tempted by her father, Don’t worry Cocoa Puff, she’s opened the door against instructions, and terrible things have happened. While no one could ever blame the naivte of a nine year old, the possibility that the door could have remained locked persists. Through this choice, Lulu inheirits the sins of her father.   Each girl copes with the pain of loss, loneliness and shame in her own way:  Merry by never leaving the five-year-old’s daddy’s little girl role, and Lulu by constucting a fictional past.  The girls’ opposed coping strategies provide a central tension throughout their relationship. 

What struck me most about this book wasn’t the alcohol-induced horror, but, rather, the complete abandonment of the girls by their mother’s family.  Middle class families actually dropped kids off at orphanages?  If this book had been set in the 50s or earlier, I wouldn’t have thought about it at all.  But the mid-1970’s?  Shouldn’t the prevailing American culture frown upon this practice by then?  I had to probe into this possibility.  Well, apparently, orphanages (originially ‘asylums’ then ‘group homes’) flourished until the mid- to late- seventies when residential services were replaced by foster care.  (If you consider that the Tuskeegee Syphilis Experiment did not end until 1972, dropping a child off at an orphanage seems rather mild an offense.)  It terrifies me to think that decrepit, dangerous institutions for children are part of my generation’s history. 

I wanted to read this novel as redemption literature, but the girls’ suffering was too deep, too personal.   Only one’s mother or father could create this kind of pain.

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