Summary: Helen is serving a life sentence at Sloatsburg women's prison for the murder of her children.
Dr. Louise Forrest, a recently divorced mother of an eight-year-old boy, is the new chief of psychiatry there.
Captain Ike Bradshaw is the corrections officer who wants her.
And Angie, an ambitious Hollywood starlet contacted by Helen, is intent on nothing but fame.
Drawing these four characters together in a story of shocking and disturbing revelations, The Big Girls is an electrifying novel about the anarchy of families, the sometimes destructive power of maternal instinct, and the cult of celebrity. -- Vintage Contemporaries
Wow! I'm not even sure where to start on my review of THE BIG GIRLS by Susanna Moore. This was actually a book that I requested from a list of new books from Vintage and Anchor Books after reading its description. For some reason, it certainly wasn't what I was expecting. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy reading it -- it was just a little overwhelming and depressing for me. (I don't want to scare away any readers by saying that the book was a huge downer -- there were a few lighter parts that took place in Hollywood and poked a little fun at that culture.
The books takes place primarily in a woman's prison; and the two characters that I found most interesting are Helen, a woman who killed her young children because voices in her head told her to, and Louise, a woman psychiatrist who works with the prioners. Both women were extremely complex, and I found them both to be disturbing albeit in different ways. It was fascinating to get inside their heads and follow their thoughts. I was especially interested in their views and ideas on motherhood.
I'm sure that it's just me, but I did have some problems following the story at first -- I think it just took me a little time to get used to the author's writing style. The book takes place with four alternate narrators (primarily Louise and Helen though.) Sometimes I had to read a few sentences before I knew who was "talking." There are no chapters in this book, just spaces between each of the characters' thoughts. The effect of this writing style was very disjointed to me, but extremely effective in making me feel uncomfortable while reading this book. I definitely think the author's writing style contributed to the overall "feeling" of this book -- the lines between very different characters were blurred (as were the actual events in their lives.)
One thing I found fascinating about this book was learning about the relationship between female prisoners. Evidently, these women create "family" relationships with other inmates while in prison -- male prisoners do not do this. I find it very interesting that women find the need to establish some sort of family-like bond even in a prison environment. I think this behavior is very telling about women's needs to feel included as well as their needs to be in nurturing relationships.
There is no doubt in my mind that Ms. Moore is a very talented writer. I am just blown away that she was able to get into the minds of these extremely interesting, unusual characters. I actually felt like she did a wonderful job of making each of these characters seem very real to me. She was even able to create compassion towards a woman who brutally murdered her two children. Ms. Moore also makes the reader feel as if he/she is learning very personal, private things about the characters that they have no right to know. It's a little mind-boggling if you think about how she was able to create such feelings in the reader. If you'd like to learn more about Ms. Moore, there is a wonderful interview with her here.
I'm not sure that this is the type of book that my book club would enjoy reading and discussing, but I think there are many book clubs out there that would love to talk about this story. There are so many things to talk about like sexual abuse, murder, motherhood, female relationships to name just a few. There is also a wonderful reading guide that will certainly make the reader think about many complex issues.
If you enjoy deep, dark reads than will really make you think, I suggest giving THE BIG GIRLS a try.
Also reviewed at:
Everyday I Write the Book Blog