This powerful debut work is informed by the author’s firsthand experiences.
THE MURDERER’S DAUGHTERS. Randy Susan Meyers. St. Martin’s. 320 pages. $24.99.
The debut novel by Randy Susan Meyers — whose family hails from Miami — dives fearlessly into a tense and emotional story of two sisters anchored to one irreversible act of domestic violence. The narrative’s dual narrators, Lulu and her younger sister Merry Zachariah, become innocent casualties when, in a terrifying scene relayed from Lulu’s childhood perspective, their father murders their mother. Meyers painstakingly traces their lives to show just how much everyone else pays for that one act of violence.
Set in Brooklyn (where the girls start out) and Boston (where they live as adults) the novel is inspired by an event in Meyers’ childhood (her mother, after fighting with her father, wouldn’t let him in the house) and her experience working with abusers and victims in inner-city youth programs and as associate director for the city of Boston Community Centers.
This firsthand connection allows her to write with incredible detail about central and peripheral characters. She appears to know each one inside and out, and the thoughtful and specific details she observes about her characters make The Murderer’s Daughters feel utterly real, elevating it above a one-dimensional tale of the repercussions of violence to a unique exploration of family bonds, sisterhood, maturation and self-sufficiency.
The book also offers dispassionate and perhaps resigned glimpses into government dysfunction in the area of child protection. The home for girls where the sisters end up is hardly a paradise. There, Lulu gets in fights, Merry’s hair is chopped off, and both girls are isolated because they are Jewish.
The narrative follows a straight line with some jumps in time, beginning with events surrounding the murder. It runs through the girls’ interior and exterior lives, developing Lulu’s coping strategy of erasing the past and maintaining an impenetrable guard and Merry’s inability to release feelings of responsibility for their jailed father.
Healing finally begins, but the book could have ostensibly continued until Lulu’s and Merry’s death. The end feels a bit as if Meyers had just stopped writing. Overall, though, she makes smart choices, trots a steady pace and sketches the emotional toll of suddenly being forced out into the world, left to hide the truth of how you got there for fear of forever being identified as a murderer’s daughter. That Lulu and Merry do survive together and learn to forgive others and themselves is one of the book’s most powerful lessons.