The Murderer’s Daughters is definitely a character-driven novel that alternates between the fractured feelings of two women. In 1971, the drunken father of Lulu and Merry arrives home infuriated by the fact that his wife has spent what he considers his money — better spent by him most likely on booze.
In addition, he suspects his wife has once again been unfaithful. In the kitchen of their tiny apartment, a deadly quarrel breaks out. Alarmed 10-year-old Lulu remains hidden. The ear-piercing shouting and screaming terrify six-year-old Merry. She dashes down the hall to the kitchen area. When she sees her parents physically battering one another, horrified Merry runs into the room screaming for them to stop.
Lulu runs to another apartment to bring help. Several fatal moments pass and the fighting stops! But not before the intoxicated husband/father has stabbed his wife to death and seriously cut his tiny daughter Merry. Lulu is shocked beyond reason. The neighbor screams for Lulu to call an ambulance and police.
When the father pleads guilty, he is sent to Richmond County Prison for a long term. His two daughters are cared for by their loving but aging grandmother who tries to help them forget their mother’s murder. Lulu is not so gentle. She tells Merry “Daddy did it because Mama dated bad men.” When grandma passes away, Lulu and Merry are not welcome in the home of their aunt and uncle. To these relatives, any association with The Murderer’s Daughters can only bring shame to their family.
From an orphanage where Lulu’s toughness shields meek Merry from more psychological and physical harm, fortunately, the two girls are adopted by a wealthy family. Here they learn the behaviors needed to succeed in a world far different from what they've known in their past. Slowly, each girl moves on with her life, but always — always — the shadow of their mother’s lifestyle and their father's murderous killing wreak havoc on them mentally.
On a fairly regular basis, empathetic Merry visits her father in prison even though she cannot comprehend why he tried to kill her along with her mother. She has always been his favorite. The two exchange letters, and on important holidays, cards. The father learns to grind lenses to exact specifications so he can be useful in prison and so he can have a trade if perchance he’d receive an early parole “in twenty-nine or thirty years.” His daughters wonder, then “he’d be an old man. Could he even work?”
Lulu never visits. Her dad is a monster. A killer she cannot ever forgive. Merry often asks Lulu to visit the prison with her. The answer is always “never.” Lulu shreds her father’s cards and letters unread and refuses any connection with him. “If I ever did write to my father, the reason would be to say, Never call me Cocoa Puff again.”
Years pass by and lives develop. Thanks to the wealth of their adopting family, Lulu becomes a good physician. While working the ER, she sees patients with bloodied clothes and ghastly wounds. Psychologically, every such case brings flashes to her mind of her dead mother lying in a pond of blood in their old apartment. She remembers Merry as a little girl sweating in pain in her hospital bed, scarred across her chest and partway down one side from her father's knifing. In spite of the hideous memories, Lulu maintains her career. She meets a wonderful man and their marriage produces two loved children. Lulu works; her caring admiring husband raises their two offspring.
Always thought of as the fairer of the two women, Merry, on the other hand, longs for an enduring love relationship but finds only sex seekers. As a parole officer, she attempts to manage difficult cases to keep parolees from returning to prison. She knows what prisons are like from the inside. She sees the pathetically limited existence of jailed inmates through the eyes of her imprisoned father. Her feelings for his plight and his justly deserved sentence haunt the way she approaches her cases and her lifestyle.
This is one of the best written stories I’ve read in a long time. It is not a murder mystery or who-done-it. Within the first few pages of the story, a knifed killing takes place. In a sense, what could be a shattering action climax is over. But then Author Randy Susan Meyers pulls together such a fascinating tale about how this killing affects the lives of the The Murderer’s Daughters, that their unconquerable characters become the vehicles which drive the story along.
I would recommend this book as a great read for book clubs. The reason: there are several great jumping off points for a good discussion that in no way ruin the book’s ending. For example, Merry’s father never really answers her questions: “Why did you want to kill me?” or “How can you tell yourself these fairy tales?”
Violence, pathos, sorrow, empathy, love: these elements pack The Murderer’s Daughters' pages with hope. A hope that violated human spirit will somehow recover — must recover. One can only wonder how many generations of grandchildren and their offspring must pass away before such a heinous stain can be forgotten.