Lulu’s and Merry’s childhood is destroyed when Lulu, warned not to let her father into the apartment, responds to his drunken entreaties by opening the door. In a drunken rage, he murders her mother and nearly kills her little sister. From that day on, Lulu and Merry have only each other, as the remaining family members are either too frail or too indifferent to care for them. The Murderer’s Daughters follows the girls from ages 9 and 5 in 1971, through trials and tribulations to 2003.
What a compelling yet painful story! From the first page Lulu and Merry have distinctive voices, but Lulu has the added burden of knowing she is the sensible sister, and, moreover, at a very young age she knows she is responsible for Merry. Not only does she have to cope with guilt about the death of her mother and injury to Merry but she can never stop worrying about Merry’s well-being. It is no wonder that she copes by focusing on her immediate problems, refusing to visit her father in prison or even acknowledge that at some point in the future he may be released; instead coming up with a plan that will get both her and Merry out of a violent group home to a facsimile of a normal life.
Fans of Jodi Picoult, in particular, will enjoy this talented new author, who has vividly created memorable and complicated sisters who cope with their pain differently but cannot cope alone. You know you care about characters when you start talking to them, and begging them not to make certain mistakes! There were so many interesting, although at times disturbing, elements that I stayed up late two nights in a row to finish. In particular, I liked that the girls squabbled like normal sisters, rather than having some idealized relationship. It was a unique relationship but with its own unwritten rules – for example, that Merry will visit her father and try to talk about him to Lulu and Lulu will pretend he doesn’t exist and refuse to listen. I was also fascinated by the fact that once Lulu wangled a new home for her and Merry she was unable to relax and try to enjoy the situation, although she knew it would have been more comfortable for her, Merry, and the family that had taken them in, were she able to ingratiate herself a little bit, or at least, not antagonize her benefactors. Whether it is worry about her father that she bottles up inside or bitterness at feeling forced to be grateful, Lulu never takes the predictable route. Then, just when I hoped Lulu was taken care of, I had to start worrying about Merry, getting entangled with very inappropriate men, chain smoking! Couldn’t these sisters get a break? And that’s before the not-very-repentant father is released from prison . . . Meyers makes it clear there are no easy happy-ever-afters for survivors of domestic abuse. She does so in a way that is very convincing.
Without giving away any more of the plot, I urge you to find a copy of this book yourself. Prepare to cry when two little girls lose both parents, prepare to worry as Lulu and Merry grow up and deal with the scars of their childhood, and prepare to stay up late until you finish. . .