The Murderer's Daughters

( 176 )

Overview

Lulu and Merry's childhood was never ideal, but on the day before Lulu's tenth birthday their father drives them into a nightmare. He's always hungered for the love of the girls’ self-obsessed mother; after she throws him out, their troubles turn deadly.

Lulu had been warned to never to let her father in, but when he shows up drunk, he's impossible to ignore. He bullies his way past Lulu, who then listens in horror as her parents struggle. She runs for help, but discovers upon ...

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Overview

Lulu and Merry's childhood was never ideal, but on the day before Lulu's tenth birthday their father drives them into a nightmare. He's always hungered for the love of the girls’ self-obsessed mother; after she throws him out, their troubles turn deadly.

Lulu had been warned to never to let her father in, but when he shows up drunk, he's impossible to ignore. He bullies his way past Lulu, who then listens in horror as her parents struggle. She runs for help, but discovers upon her return that he's murdered her mother, stabbed her five-year-old sister, and tried, unsuccessfully, to kill himself.

Lulu and Merry are effectively orphaned by their mother’s death and father’s imprisonment, but the girls’ relatives refuse to care for them and abandon them to a terrifying group home. Even as they plot to be taken in by a well-to-do family, they come to learn they’ll never really belong anywhere or to anyone—that all they have to hold onto is each other.

For thirty years, the sisters try to make sense of what happened. Their imprisoned father is a specter in both their lives, shadowing every choice they make. One spends her life pretending he's dead, while the other feels compelled, by fear, by duty, to keep him close. Both dread the day his attempts to win parole may meet success.

A beautifully written, compulsively readable debut, The Murderer's Daughters is a testament to the power of family and the ties that bind us together and tear us apart.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“How both sisters live, from the squalor of an orphanage to the empty silences of suburban living, is all too believable and heartbreaking because there is no acceptable answer for how to deal with one's part, as living victim, of a horrible crime” —Sarah Weinman, LA Times 'Knock-Out Debuts'

"Meyers delivers a clear-eyed, insightful story about domestic violence and survivor's guilt in "The Murderer's Daughters." It's an impressively executed novel, disturbing and convincing." Diane White, Boston Globe

"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.” —Christine Thomas, The Miami Herald

"Beautiful language balms the dark plot" —Daily Candy, Best New Winter Books

“The author delivers unshakable truths at every turn. . . Meyers, in a remarkably assured debut, details how the sisters process their grief in separate but similarly punishing ways." —Christian Toto, The Denver Post

"Much like Janet Fitch's White Oleander or Jacquelyn Mitchard's The Deep End of the Ocean, her book takes readers on an emotional roller-coaster ride. Readers, get out your handkerchief and prepare to care." — Library Journal Review

“As provocative as We Need to Talk About Kevin and as emotional as any Jodi Picoult novel.” New Zealand Women’s Weekly

“A wonderful and thoughtful, wise novel.” Annabelle, Germany

"A touching tale that will truly move you." The Sun, UK

"The Murderer's Daughters is the unforgettable tale of Merry and Lulu, little sisters in sorrow, seared by their father's violence. Their heartbreaking story, which spans thirty years, will bring tears to your eyes...but there is a shining light of hope at the end of the tunnel." —Tatiana de Rosnay, New York Times bestselling author of Sarah's Key

"In her mesmerizing, empathic novel The Murderer's Daughters, Meyers explores the bond between two sisters clinging to each other in the aftermath of their mother's murder and their father's imprisonment...and how their bond is tested by the reappearance of the past. You won't be able to put it down." —Jenna Blum, New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Save Us

"This wonderful, thought-provoking novel took hold of me on page one and never let me go. With lovely prose and an uncanny delicacy for such a horrific and oftentimes unspeakable topic, Randy Susan Meyers brilliantly succeeds in telling the untold story of what happens to the children of murder victims. Alternately told through the eyes of Lulu and Merry, the story spans over 30 years and gives us a rare ?A riveting read. . . Highly recommended." —Beth Hoffman, New York Times bestselling author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

"In The Murderer's Daughters Randy Susan Meyers tells the intricate and absorbing story of two sisters, one of whom regards herself as an orphan. I love the sweep of this novel, from childhood to adulthood, from pain to understanding, and how intimately Meyers knows her characters and brings them to life. I finished The Murderer's Daughters with the sense that I had been on the best kind of journey." —Margot Livesey, author of The House on Fortune Street, Winner 2009 L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award

Publishers Weekly
This solid novel begins with young Lulu finding her mother dead and her sister wounded at the hands of her alcoholic father, who has failed at killing himself after attacking the family. Meyers traces the following 30 years for Lulu and her sister, Merry, as they are sent to an orphanage, where Lulu turns tough and calculating, searching for a way into an adoptive family. Eventually, Lulu becomes a doctor specializing in “the almost old,” though her secretiveness about her past causes new rifts to form in her new family. Meanwhile, Merry becomes a “victim witness advocate,” but her life is stunted; she's dependant on Lulu, drugs and alcohol, and she can't find love because she “usually want[s] whoever wants me.” In the background, their imprisoned father looms until a crisis that eerily mirrors the past forces Lulu and Merry to confront what happened years ago. Though the novel's sprawling time line and undifferentiated narrative voices—the sisters narrate in rotating first-person chapters—hinder the potential for readers to fall completely into the story, the psychologically complex characters make Meyers's debut a satisfying read. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Lulu and Merry, ages ten and six, respectively, live with parents for whom marriage is a permanent battleground. One summer day in 1971, their father fatally stabs their mother in their Brooklyn apartment near Coney Island. Merry is also attacked but survives. When their father goes to jail, the sisters are shuffled from relatives to a group home to foster care. Lulu forever blames herself for her father's crimes, and Merry inexplicably continues to carry a torch for her father. How will they come to terms with their horrific past? Readers will follow them well into adulthood, hoping for the best. VERDICT First novelist Meyers draws on the eight years she worked at a batterer intervention program. Much like Janet Fitch's White Oleander or Jacqueline Mitchard's The Deep End of the Ocean, her book takes readers on an emotional roller-coaster ride. Readers, get out your handkerchief and prepare to care.—Keddy Ann Outlaw, Houston\
School Library Journal
Adult/High School—When she was only 10, Lulu watched her father kill her mother and critically injure her sister. Her overwhelming guilt at letting her father into the apartment that day, despite her mother's warning not to, drives her to protect her sister fiercely for years to come. The girls first stay with their mother's sister, but are soon sent to a home. Though conditions are deplorable, Lulu is determined to make a better life for Merry and is able to manipulate Mrs. Cohen, one of the teachers, into taking both of them into her family as foster children. Even though the sisters are taken care of physically, they aren't loved like the grown children in the family, and Mrs. Cohen's death brings an end to any feelings of belonging they once had. Throughout it all, Merry visits her father in prison, but Lulu refuses any contact and in fact covers up his existence. As the girls grow up and graduate from college, they stay close physically and emotionally. Only Lulu's husband knows the truth about his father-in-law; even their children are unaware. But as his release date grows near, tensions rise and the truth finds its way out. Meyers's strength is in her descriptions of the heartbreak of the sisters' situation as children and their continued struggles as adults, as well as the clarity and individuality of their voices.—Kelly Jo Lasher, Middle Township High School, Cape May Court House, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
Meyers' empathetic, socially conscious debut considers the burdens carried and eventually shed by two sisters, survivors of domestic violence. Ten-year-old Lulu and eight-year-old Merry are caught up in adult turmoil when their father murders their mother in July 1971. Over the subsequent three decades, Lulu feels ineradicable guilt for letting him into the apartment that day and takes on the responsibility of protecting her sister. Merry, who bears literal scars (their father knifed her too), nevertheless considers it her job to keep him cheery throughout his life sentence. The children suffer relentlessly, both before the murder under the care of their neglectful mother and afterward in a miserable orphanage. A calm phase follows when the kindly Dr. and Mrs. Cohen take them home as foster children, yet both girls grow up deeply marked. Lulu is a short-tempered control freak who lies about her parents; Merry self-destructively depends on booze and unavailable men. Lulu marries successfully and has two children, but the women's lives are finally blown apart when one of the children is briefly held hostage at the courthouse where Merry works as a probation officer. Now the truth comes out, and both Lulu and Merry are liberated, to a degree. Eminently readable, despite some clunky phrasing and an excess of psychology, with affecting moments and insights.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312674434
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/2011
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 318,742
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Randy Susan Meyers spent eight years as assistant director of Common Purpose, a batterer intervention program where she worked with both batterers and domestic violence victims. Previously, she was director for the Mission Hill Community Centers where she worked with at-risk youth. She is the co-author of the nonfiction book Couples with Children. Her short fiction has been published in Perigee, Fog City Review, and Grub Street Free Press. She currently teaches fiction-writing seminars at the Grub Street Writers’ Center in Boston, Massachusetts. She lives in Boston with her husband and is the mother of two grown daughters.

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Read an Excerpt

1

Lulu

July 1971

I wasn’t surprised when Mama asked me to save her life. By my first week in kindergarten, I knew she was no macaroni-necklace-wearing kind of mother. Essentially, Mama regarded me as a miniature hand servant:

Grab me a Pepsi, Lulu.

Get the milk for your sister’s cereal.

Go to the store and buy me a pack of Winstons.

Then one day she upped the stakes:

Don’t let Daddy in the apartment.

The July our family fell apart, my sister was five going on six, and I was turning ten, which in my mother’s eyes made me about fifty. Daddy didn’t offer much help, even before he left. He had problems of his own. My father wanted things he couldn’t have, and he hungered for my mother above all else. Perhaps growing up in the shadow of Coney Island, Brooklyn’s fantasy world, explained his weakness for Mama’s pinup façade, but I never understood how he missed the rest. Her sugary packaging must have kept him from noticing how much she resented any moment that didn’t completely belong to her.

Mama and Daddy’s battles were the heartbeat of our house. Still, until the day my mother kicked him out, my father was the perfect example of hope against knowledge. He’d return from work each night looking for supper, a welcome home kiss, a cold beer. Mama considered his homecoming her signal to rail against life.

"How many hours a day do you think I can be alone with them, Joey?" Mama had asked just days before he moved out. She’d pointed at my sister, Merry, and me playing Chutes and Ladders on the tiny Formica table stuck in the corner of our undersize kitchen. We were the best- behaved girls in Brooklyn, girls who knew that disobeying Mama brought a quick smack and hours spent staring at our toes.

"Alone?" Beer fumed off Daddy’s lips. "For God’s sake, you spend half the day yakking with Teenie and the other half painting your nails. You know we got a stove, right? With knobs and everything?"

Mama’s friend Teenie lived downstairs on the first floor with five sons and an evil husband whose giant head resembled an anvil. Teenie’s apartment smelled like bleach and freshly ironed cotton. Ironing was Teenie’s Valium. Her husband’s explosions left her so anxious that she begged Mama for our family’s wrinkled laundry. Thanks to Teenie’s husband, we slept on crisp sheets and satin- smooth pillowcases.

I dreamed of deliverance from my so- called family, convinced I was the secret child of our handsome mayor, John V. Lindsay, who seemed so smart, and his sweet and refined wife, who I knew would be the sort of mother who’d buy me books instead of Grade B faux-Barbie dolls from Woolworth’s junky toy section. The Lindsay family had put me in this ugly apartment with peeling paint and Grade C parents to test my worth, and I wouldn’t disappoint. Even when Mama screamed right in my face, I kept my voice modulated to a tone meant to please Mrs. Lindsay.

Mama sent us to take a nap that afternoon. The little coffin of a bedroom Merry and I shared steamed hot, hot, hot. Our only relief came when Mama wiped our grimy arms and chests with a washcloth she’d soaked with alcohol and cold water.

Lying in the afternoon heat, impatient for my birthday to arrive the next day, I prayed that Mama had bought the chemistry set I’d been hinting about all month. Last year I’d asked for a set of Britannica encyclopedias and received a Tiny Tears doll. I never wanted a doll, and even if I did, who wanted one that peed on you?

I hoped Mama’s recently improved mood might help my cause. Since throwing Daddy out, Mama hardly yelled at us anymore. She barely noticed we existed. When I reminded her it was suppertime, she’d glance away from her movie magazine and say, "Take some money from my purse, and go to Harry’s."

We’d walk three blocks to Harry’s Coffee Shop and order tuna sandwiches and malteds, vanilla for Merry and chocolate for me. Usually I’d finish first, wrapping my legs around the cold chrome pole under the leather stool and twirling impatiently while I waited. Merry sipped at her malted and nibbled itsy bitsy bites from her sandwich. I yelled at her to hurry, imitating Grandma Zelda, Daddy’s mother. "Move it, Princess Hoo-ha. Who do you think you are, the Queen of En gland?"

Maybe she did. Maybe Merry’s secret mother was Queen Elizabeth.

After Daddy moved out, Mama instituted inexplicable new rules. Don’t open the door for your father. When you visit him at Grandma Zelda’s, don’t say a word about me. That old bag is just using you for information. And never tell anyone about my friends.

Men friends visited Mama all the time. I didn’t know exactly how to keep from saying anything about them. Not talking about Mama meant being outright rude and disobedient, since seconds after he’d kissed us hello, Daddy’s questions started:

How’s your mother?

Who comes over the house?

Does she have new clothes? New records? New color hair?

Even a kid could see Daddy was starving for Mama- news.

I felt a little guilty at how relieved I was by Daddy’s absence. Before he left, when he wasn’t demanding or, later, outright begging Mama for attention, he’d be staring at her with a big, moony face.

I sometimes wondered why my mother had married Daddy. Because I was too young to do the math and figure out the time between their wedding and my birth, it had never entered my mind that I was the reason, and Mama didn’t invite girlie mother- daughter conversation. Mama didn’t cotton to anything smacking of introspection. That’s probably why she was so close to Teenie. Teenie didn’t dip into the deeper meanings of life. She’d spend hours and hours judging Mama’s fingernail polish, glancing away from her ironing long enough to pick the tone most flattering to Mama’s pale skin as my mother painted one nail after another.

I flipped the page of The Scarlet Slipper Mystery, sweat dripping from my arms. Since I could take only six books per visit from the library, I had to time it right, or I’d be stuck on Sundays rereading the five Reader’s Digest Condensed Books sitting on our red lacquered living room shelf. Green-bronze statues of fierce- looking Chinese dragons with long, sharp tails bookended the volumes. Symbols of luck, Mama said.

Black onyx boxes in various shapes and sizes with mother- of- pearl inlay covers decorated the living room shelves. They were smooth and cool to the touch. Mama’s father brought them back from the war in Japan. Mama’s mother, who we called Mimi Rubee, gave Mama the boxes after our grandfather died because Mama demanded them enough to drive Mimi Rubee crazy.

Mama was used to getting what she wanted.

Sun snuck over the walls enclosing our gloomy courtyard and blazed into the bedroom. I flipped and rotated my pillow, squashing it into semi-comfortable lumps, seeking a bit of cool cotton to tuck under my head. Merry, cross- legged on her bed, moved her paper dolls into various constellations. She propped them against the wall, folding down the tabs on first one outfit and then another, moving her lips for the silent plays they acted out for her alone.

Merry was supposed to be taking a nap, and I was supposed to be making sure she did. Merry looked all proud and happy wearing her apple green sunsuit, the one that tied on the top with little yellow ribbons. I hated it because I had to help her pull it all the way down, then tie it back up every time she had to go to the bathroom. Merry loved it because it came from Daddy. Grandma Zelda really picked it out, not Daddy, but I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to ruin Merry’s good times.

Merry was unusually cute, and I was unusually plain. People stopped us every day, bending down to gush over Merry’s black curls or her Tootsie Pop eyes— the chocolate ones— or to stroke her rosy cheek as though her skin were a fabric they couldn’t resist fingering. I felt as though I toted around the Princess of Brooklyn.

Daddy doted on Merry. Aunt Cilla had said that while watching Daddy pop M&M’s into Merry’s mouth one by one. "Does it ever make you jealous?" she asked my mother. Aunt Cilla, Mama’s sister, looked like a puffy blowfish version of my mother.

"Yeah, right. He’s a big shot with the five- year- olds," Mama had responded to Aunt Cilla, but really for Daddy’s ears.

Merry made Daddy happy. I never did. He’d make a joke or something, and I’d narrow my eyes, wondering if the riddle or knock- knock joke was funny enough to merit a laugh. Then he’d get mad and say, "Jesus, Lulu, do you have to analyze every single thing a person says?"

I switched position on my bed, leaning on the windowsill with my elbows halfway out, trying to catch some breeze. Music from Mrs. Schwartz’s stereo blasted through the courtyard. Someone had probably told her to shut it off, which usually made Mrs. Schwartz turn it up. "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" played so loud that I missed hearing the first quiet taps on our front door.

"Someone’s knocking," Merry announced and hopped off her bed.

"Stop." I swung my legs off the bed. "Are you nuts? Do you want Mama to kill us? Let me. You’re supposed to be sleeping."

Merry jumped back on her bed, landing with her feet tucked under her butt. She was skinny and small for her age. In her green sunsuit, she looked like a grasshopper leaping up.

I tiptoed to the door. Mama used our nap time to take her own nap, her beauty sleep, she called it, and she hated waking before her time. I held a finger to my mouth, letting Merry know to keep quiet. She opened her eyes wide, her Tootsie Pops asking, Do you think I’m stupid?

Our bedroom and the front door practically touched. I opened our bedroom door inch by inch, trying to be quiet. The knocking got louder. "Who is it?" I murmured, practically pressing my lips to the edge of the door.

"Open up, Lulu."

I heard my father breathing.

"Come on, Lu. Open it now."

"I’m not supposed to let you in," I whispered, praying Mama wouldn’t hear.

"Don’t worry, Cocoa Puff. Mama won’t get mad. I promise."

My eyes filled a little hearing my pet name. When things had been better, I’d been Cocoa Puff and Merry had been Sugar Pop. He’d call Mama Sugar Smack Pie, because he said that was the sweetest thing of all. Then he’d smack his lips and my mother would throw what ever she was holding at him.

But she’d smile.

"I know you’re scared of Mama, but you have to let me in. I’m your father." Daddy lowered his voice to a conspiratorial tone. "It’s my name on the lease."

I didn’t know what a lease was, but maybe he was right. I opened the door a pinch, leaving the tarnished chain on, and saw a sliver of my father.

He pulled up real close and smiled. His teeth looked cruddy, as if he’d eaten crackers or something without brushing after. He smelled like cigarettes, beer, and something else. Something scary. Something I’d never smelled before.

He put a hand up against the door and leaned in. The chain tightened. "Unbolt it, Lulu."

I backed away, wondering if I should get Mama. I felt Merry behind me. I didn’t know if Daddy saw her. I didn’t think so. He would have said hello.

"I’ll get Mama," I said.

"You don’t need your mama. Just open the damn door. I have something to give her."

"I’ll get her for you."

"Stop being stubborn. Let me in now!"

He rattled the knob, and my heart shook.

"Get back into bed," I whispered to Merry. When she disappeared, I reached up for the latch and chain. He let up on the door so I’d have the slack I needed.

"Thanks, Lu." He touched the mezuzah nailed to the doorjamb, then kissed his fingers. He called it Jewish luck, the only kind us Jews get, he’d say.

Then he chucked me on the chin. I pulled back from his acrid tobacco touch, wanting to wash my face.

"You’re my peach." Daddy walked down the short hall, turning left at the tiny alcove where he’d wedged in a desk for me.

I hung behind, hovering halfway down the hall, and then slipped into the bathroom, cracking the door enough to hear, though I couldn’t see.

"Jesus, Joey, you scared me half to death!" My mother sounded nervous. I pictured her holding up the thin sheet she used for her summer naps.

"Miss me, sweetheart?" my father asked.

"Louise, get in here now," Mama yelled.

I didn’t move. I didn’t say a thing.

"We need to talk." Daddy sounded slurry.

"Get out; you’re drunk. I have nothing to say to you." I heard her get up and my father stomp after her. The refrigerator door opened with a sucking sound. A can popped. They were in the kitchen.

"You had plenty to say when you talked my paycheck out of my boss, didn’t you, Miss America?" Daddy shouted. "Did you wiggle your ass real hard?"

Something thumped back in my room. Merry scampered down the hall, her bare feet sounding soft and sticky on the linoleum. I wanted to reach out and yank her into the bathroom.

I heard her stop at the couch, the springs squeaking as she jumped. I pictured her balled up, holding her knees and trembling. You could see into the kitchen easy from the couch.

"Someone’s got to feed these kids. What am I supposed to do? Manufacture money?" Mama asked.

"I need that money back, Celeste. Now."

My mother mumbled something too low to hear. I opened the bathroom door wider.

"I’m serious; give it, Celeste. Give it."

Daddy’s low voice thrummed like a machine. Give it. Give it. Give it.

"Get out before I call the cops."

Something scraped.

"Get out!"

"I need it. I need the money, damn it!"

Something slammed.

My sister whimpered. Had she gone in the kitchen? I should get her.

"Shush, quiet, Sugar Pop. It’s okay." My father’s words blurred together. I pictured him bending down, kissing the top of Merry’s head as he always did, wrapping one of her curls around his finger and letting it spring out and back.

"Go to Mama’s room, Merry," Mama ordered.

"Yeah, go to Mama’s room," my father repeated. Something clattered, as though a whole bunch of stuff fell to the floor. "Bourbon, Celeste? You buying them booze on my money?"

He sounded like he was crying. I slid against the wall and inched toward them.

"Go to your mother’s." Mama sounded more mad than scared now. "Get sober."

"You think I give you money to buy liquor for your boyfriends?"

Daddy’s voice had changed again. The teary voice had disappeared. Now he sounded big. Like a wolf. A bear. Heavy banging started. I pictured him slamming and slamming and slamming cabinet doors. Metal screeched, cracking like hinges ripping out of their sockets.

GIVE THE MONEY, MAMA!

"Lulu," Mama screamed. "He’s got a knife. He’s going to kill me. Get Teenie !"

What if Teenie wasn’t home?

No, Teenie never went out.

What should I say?

I stayed frozen in the hall for what felt like my whole life listening to Mama and Daddy yell. Then I ran down the pitted stairs to Teenie’s apartment. I pounded my fists on her door over the sound of her tele vision. I banged so loud I expected the entire building to come down. Finally, her youngest son opened the door. I flew inside and found Teenie in the living room watching Let’s Make a Deal and ironing her husband’s boxer shorts.

"My father has a knife," I said.

"Watch the boys," Teenie called to her oldest son as she unplugged the iron without even turning it off.

As we ran out of the apartment, Teenie yelled, "Stay here, boys. Don’t move an inch!"

We raced up the stairs. I wondered if I should get someone else to go with Teenie and me. Mr. Ford, maybe. He lived alone. He was a bachelor. Old. However, he was a man, though my father called him a fruit.

No, we didn’t need anybody else. My father liked Teenie. He’d listen to her. She’d make him calm down.

We ran into our apartment, me right behind Teenie as she skidded through the living room and into the kitchen. Wide- open cabinets from where my father had slammed the doors open and shut showed our turquoise and white dishes. A broken door swayed back and forth in the strong, humid breeze blowing the curtains.

Mama lay on the floor. Blood dripped on the green and brown linoleum. Teenie fell to her knees, grabbed the edge of her wide cotton apron, and held it over the place on my mother’s chest where the blood pumped out the fastest.

Teenie looked up at me. "Call the operator." Her voice cracked. "Tell them to send an ambulance. Police."

I stared down at Mama. Don’t die.

"Go, Lulu!"

I ran into my mother’s room. The phone was next to the bed. Pink. A Princess phone. Merry lay on top of my mother’s pink and gray bedspread. Mama would scream her head off when she saw how blood had spread everywhere. The cute green sunsuit that made Merry into a little grasshopper was slashed down the middle, but the bows I liked to make with the yellow ties had stayed perfectly in place.

My father was beside Merry. Blood leaked from his wrists.

"Did you call?" Teenie yelled from the kitchen.

I picked the phone up from the night table, careful not to jar Mama’s bed, knowing she wouldn’t like it if I did.

Excerpted from The Murderer s Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers.
Copyright 2009 by Randy Susan Meyers.
Published in January 2010 by St. Martin s Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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Reading Group Guide

Lulu and Merry's childhood was never ideal, but on the day before Lulu's tenth birthday their father drives them into a nightmare. He's always hungered for the love of the girls’ self-obsessed mother; after she throws him out, their troubles turn deadly.

Lulu had been warned to never to let her father in, but when he shows up drunk, he's impossible to ignore. He bullies his way past Lulu, who then listens in horror as her parents struggle. She runs for help, but discovers upon her return that he's murdered her mother, stabbed her five-year-old sister, and tried, unsuccessfully, to kill himself.

Lulu and Merry are effectively orphaned by their mother’s death and father’s imprisonment, but the girls’ relatives refuse to care for them and abandon them to a terrifying group home. Even as they plot to be taken in by a well-to-do family, they come to learn they’ll never really belong anywhere or to anyone—that all they have to hold onto is each other.

For thirty years, the sisters try to make sense of what happened. Their imprisoned father is a specter in both their lives, shadowing every choice they make. One spends her life pretending he's dead, while the other feels compelled, by fear, by duty, to keep him close. Both dread the day his attempts to win parole may meet success.

A beautifully written, compulsively readable debut, The Murderer's Daughters is a testament to the power of family and the ties that bind us together and tear us apart.

Read More Show Less

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 177 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 14, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Gripping

    This is a can't-put-down, stay-up-all-night, please-don't-talk-to-me book. I fell in love with Lulu and Merry as little girls and continued to love them as they grew to complicated women. In the opening pages they faced the nightmare their father created and I needed to know immediately what happened to them. As they grew and their dilemma's multiplied, I became totally invested in their decisions and their outcomes. The writing is so good that scenes and images from this book stayed with me long after I finished. We often hear of the trauma involving adults in domestic violence and rarely hear about what happens to the children. This is a very important novel, gripping and haunting, forcing us to confront the parental legacy of both violence and enduring love. This novel compels us to remember that nothing between parents and children is simple and that we all leave complex and often unintended legacies. This book is a must read.

    9 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 18, 2010

    A Shame and a Disgrace

    A shame and a disagrace or as the author writes in Yiddish, "shandah and a charpeh." What a book! From the very first chapter, when Lulu (Louise) and Merry (Merideth) are unwilling witnesses and participants in their father's murder of their mother, I was drawn into their lives and their tragic vulnerabilty. Thrust into an orphange after their mother's death and their father's incarceration, Lulu and Merry are victims of the cruel system and their abandonment by the remaining family. They are shamed as the murderer's daugthers, no one wants them. The mother's aunt uses the excuse that these girls are part of their father who struck down her beloved sister. As the reader, who read most of this book sitting on the runway during the recent Midwest blizzard, I was caught up with the fact that this family was Jewish. I am sure there are Jewish families who commit crimes and do not give a home to the orphaned children, but this twist made the story more interesting and heart breaking. No one could take these poor girls? This was the shame and the disgrace!

    Lulu, a tenacious bright girl, protected her pretty sister who was consumed with guilt and no direction. Merry visited her father in prison (Lulu did not) to seek his approval, to maintain a connection, to find answers, but she was used by her father, too. He played a part; he would keep up his "Hi Sugar Pop, Cocoa Puff" sweet talk to gain some allegiance from his daughter, and it worked with Merry. The regulations, the other visitors, the physical building of the prison would forever make Merry an "expert" prison visitor.

    At an important educational point in their life, Lulu and Merry were fostered to a rather wealthy Jewish family who saw to their education but really could not give them they love they needed and deserved. Meyers writes with profound understanding of how foster children will do anything to please a foster parent to avoid being sent back to an orphanage which is probably worse than their father's prison.

    I learned about the "system" as I did in White Oleander, but I felt this was a stronger book because the two sisters knew they only had each other and avoided the revelation of the murder scene in order to function in this world. Consumed with guilt, Lulu becomes an excellent physician and Merry is fraught with impossible relationships but works hard all the time to maintain the relationship with her sister. Lulu's anger shows in a myriad of incidents and Merry's sadness blankets the novel. I loved this book. There is much to be learned. No one was glorified, even the dead Mother, reality of their family, the orphanage, the grandmothers made this a more haunting, plausible book. I know this was a debut novel, but it is the best that I have read in a long time.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 15, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    CHILLING!

    This is a story that will keep your nose in the book, make you think, wonder and break your heart. The author writes of the irreparable damage of two sister's lives after their father murders their mother. While many books have been written about domestic violence and the tragic aftermath, few have addressed what the children of domestic violence experience. This powerful story brings the reader up close to the pain, the sadness and the guilt. The girls'resilience as they make their way through what's left of their lives, feeling unwanted, abandoned, desperate for belonging, for someone to love them and give them some semblance of normalcy. Much of the story is painful to read and just tears your heart out. When your father murders your mother and tries to murder your sister and tries to commit suicide, do you try to have a relationship with him?This book will stay with you, the strength, hope and will, long after you finish the last page. This is a riveting story, full of complex characters that you really care about.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 15, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    terrific drama

    In a rage their drunken father kills their mother and almost kills one of his daughters Merry. The child and her sister Lulu are sent to an orphanage. Lulu plays the system while the system plays Merry, but stay together as they forge a symbiotic relationship.

    Lulu becomes a doctor, but hides her nightmarish childhood from everyone. Merry becomes a victim abdicate though she is totally dependent on Lulu and drugs. Merry visits her father while Lulu behaves as if he committed suicide on that fatal day three decades ago. Now he is being freed from prison; something neither of his children support as they fear the shadows he left them with when he committed the atrocity.

    Rotating first person perspectives between the sisters, fans get a deep look at how a tragedy when they were children impacts them as adults. Ironically though Lulu and Merry seem like opposites as the audience observes and "listen" to both over the next three decades, they sound so identical that a reader would struggle to delineate who is relating their lives at a particular moment. This adds to the overall impact of a psychological thriller as beneath the public mask each never truly moved past the pivotal horrific incident. The Murderer's Daughter is a profound look at the survivors coping throughout their respective lifetimes when a family member commits an atrocity; exponentially devastating when the trauma is also against another family member.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Believable characters

    "The Murder's Daughters" is heartbreaking. The girls witness their mother being murdered at a very young age. The novel tells about the misfortunate events that follow the trauma they endured and how it affects their entire lives. The author does a magnificent job portraying the characters. This story is so believable, that there are moments when you will question "is this really fiction?". This book had me captivated from the very first sentence.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 6, 2010

    A must read!

    The Murderer's Daughters engaged me from the get go. I could not put this book down. The storyline, the characters and their emotions all make for a great novel. It is a story of survival and the impact of domestic violence on the silent sufferers, the children. I highly recommend this debut novel by Randy Susan Meyers and cannot wait for her next book!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 6, 2010

    Complex, sensitive, and gripping

    Two sisters, Lulu and Merry deal with the aftermath of domestic violence in all its complexity. When your father murders your mother do you try to maintain a relationship with him? When your father murders your mother and tries to murder your little sister and commit suicide does he cease to exist for you? What is like to grow up being known as "the murderer's daughters?" How do you take care of each other when no one else wants you?

    In the Murderer's Daughters, Randy Susan Meyers opens windows as you watch Lulu and Merry, who were 10 and 5 when they entered this nightmare, spend the next 30 years answering these very questions. They take very divergent paths; Lulu declaring herself an orphan and Merry trying to maintain a relationship with her father and trying to understand that relationship. Meyer takes us on a 30-year journey following Lulu and Merry as they move from relatives who don't want them, a home for girls, and a foster home into adulthood where ultimately they face one of their greatest challenges: their father's release from prison.

    The Murderer's Daughters is what all great books should be; riveting, full of complex characters you really care about, excellent writing, snappy dialog, and leaves you asking yourself, "what if, what if... This is definitely one book not to be missed, and will leave you looking forward to Meyer's next book.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 6, 2010

    Complex and Entertaining

    Murderer's Daughters is a wonderful story of two sisters struggling to survive their father's history of violence. Randy Myers is not only great at staging the dramatic events, but also at portraying how Merry and Lulu both cope with the family's past according to their specific personalities. One of Myers' gifts as a writer is to create complex characters that span human experience, thus making the reader relate to them on a deep level. Those, specifically, who have gone through difficult family times will be moved by this tale. But I don't want to make this novel sound like a still character study, quite the contrary. Myers is also a terrific storyteller, and the Murderer's Daughters is a dynamic and interesting story, filled with satisfying plot twists

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Gripping

    I read this in one sitting after getting an early copy. Despite the heart breaking topic--two sisters surviving witnessing their father kill their mother--the pages flew by. Watching them grow up, from little girls to adults, I was mesmerized by the different ways they reacted to the tragedy. And yet they were so close, they could barely stand living apart!

    Amazingly, the book was also funny and wry at times. I recommend this book 100%. I loved these characters.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 19, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    AMAZING!!!!

    I read mostly murder mysteries, but something compelled me to try this book and I was not disappointed. The plot is so enthralling and the characters are so complex yet so endearing that I felt as if I knew them personally. I wanted to reach into the book and take care of them. I also recommend Chevy Stephens as an author that writes books on this emotional level. This book is destined for greatness. Don't let it pass you by!!!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 15, 2010

    REVIEW OF THE MURDERER'S DAUGHTERS by Randy Susan Meyers

    What I loved most about this book was the relationship between the two sisters, Lulu and Merry. A shared tragedy sometimes has a way of bringing out the deeper soul in people, even in children, as this novel well illustrates. The sudden disappearance of both their parents - when their mother is horribly murdered - leaves one child precariously afloat in a sort of eternal childhood while the other is charged with the Sisyphean task of trying to grow herself into the eternally large shoes of abandoned parenthood. Heartbreaking, I thought: those intimate scenes from the early part of the book in which the girls manage to create something invisible and yet solid that endures through the challenges they encounter later in the novel: the true "family" that exists between them.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 13, 2010

    Amazing READ ---- >>>> Could NOT put this book down!

    From the opening paragraph I was hooked. I read it straight through in one night. It was the most compelling read of the year for me. The characters are so real, so rich, so detailed and nuanced. The story is both horrifying, moving, and full of hope. Mary and Lulu, the two daughters, are an inspiration. I have recommended this book to everyone I know. Amazing amazing read.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2010

    This book is Fantastic!

    Fabulous book. Bought it on a whim when looking for something to read. This was a complete page turner! Going to put this author on my favorite list!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 8, 2009

    Unflinching, potent, and psychologically real

    I was fortunate to get my hands on an early copy of The Murderer's Daughters, and I nearly wish I hadn't, because I wish I had other readers to discuss it with when I finished.

    Three Big Think questions formed the crux of this book for me: 1) When children witnesses something no child should have to, how do they continue to live their lives overcoming the searing images, memories, and lasting significance to self esteem; 2) how does that affect their sibling relationship, banded together in relation to an outside world which cannot possibly understand; and 3) is every parental sin potentially forgiveable, in the deepest recesses of a child's heart, because they so want to be loved? Fascinating questions the book examines so poignantly.

    Domestic violence is not an easy subject to read, but this work does not belabor the awfulness. However it does unflinchingly address what needs to be seen and addressed. The author's experience in the field informs this novel on every level and makes it psychologically real, but it's her wisdom and heart that make you care about the characters. I found myself wondering about what became of their lives after the point the book leaves them. That, to me, is the sign of a potent book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 9, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A HAUNTING, MEMORABLE READ...

    A most provocative title, The Murderer's Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers, tenders a vivid narrative of two young girls trapped in the vicious cycle of domestic violence.
    In an unusual twist, the emotionally grueling scene of a selfish, immoral shell of a father cajoles his older daughter Lulu into unlocking the door to the apartment he is banned from entering, and then proceeds to murder his wife, cruelly injure his younger daughter Merry, and in a pathetic attempt to kill himself.

    The prequel to this horrific scene acutely describes its harbinger, the incessant levels of highs and lows that personify domestic violence and how it affects its victims, especially two young girls. Without parental care, with a heinous father in prison, Lulu and Merry become wards of a girls' home that accommodates a diverse population of girls whose only desire is to be noticed and rewarded for the unrelenting pain of living in an institution that only satisfies their basic needs.

    Randy Susan Meyers writes with a powerful and deeply emotional voice about a painfully ubiquitous subject that rarely receives the consideration it deserves, that of the collateral damage of domestic violence, the children.

    We follow the lives of Lulu and Merry through those early painfully disturbing years of yearning, not only for a conventional family life, but also for the overwhelming desire for acceptance as typical children, rather than the children of a murderer.

    Though ferociously protected by Lulu in childhood, vigorous attempts to dissuade Merry from contact with their father fail. Merry is adamant and with her fraternal grandmother, visits her father in prison on a consistent basis. Lulu refuses to participate in what she considers a bizarre ritual, and rejects his specious enticements to see him.

    Without perceptible discernment, Lulu suppresses her powerlessness to fully understand, accept, or forgive her father's actions. Extremely driven and highly intelligent, she immerses herself in medical school, and as a well-respected doctor proceeds to follow the Hippocratic Oath on her own terms by selectively choosing which women patients she will accept.

    Merry exhibits the characteristic manifestations of a physically and mentally abused childhood. Frequent meaningless sexual encounters usually fueled by excessive drinking, and an intermittent relationship with a married man, Merry's reckless façade is inconsistent with her chosen profession as a parole officer. Subconsciously, she seeks to heal her ex-convicts' shattered psyches in order to save them through motivational counseling and assiduous encouragement.

    A watershed event occurs which alters Lulu's and Merry's increasingly fragile relationship, and provides a powerful catalyst to liberate two young girls tethered to the past by shame and guilt which haunted them to this moment in their lives.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 9, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    A Great Read on Every Level

    In The Murderer's Daughters, author Randy Susan Meyers not only offers a poignant story about lifelong consequences and familial bonds, but she does so with literary grace. Too often do modern stories, particularly those with tragic turns, rely solely on shock value and so-called realism, ignoring the art of the written word. Meyers, however, has successfully crafted a story that can be appreciated on every level, and is as accessible to the casual reader as it is fulfilling to the academic.

    The Murderer's Daughters flows easily, with relatable and sympathetic characters forced into sometimes unthinkable situations. From plot to character development, from description to dialogue, nothing here has been done carelessly. Not once does Meyers rely on stereotype or easy resolution, which keeps the reader invested in every moment. Every motif supports her themes. Rather than searching for pretty turns of the phrase that are, in essence, meaningless to a description, Meyers paints a picture with precision and clarity, and allows natural poetry to emerge from her imagery. It is this attention to detail that creates a finished product so enjoyable to read.

    I believe fans of Joyce Carol Oates and Jodi Picoult will naturally love Meyers's style, but, really, anyone who enjoys a good read that runs the gamut of emotion with zero dumbing down will be a fast fan of The Murderer's Daughters.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 5, 2010

    Not "dark" and worth your time

    A book with the word "murderer" in the title would, you'd think, be dark, violent and depressing. Not this one. Yes a murder takes place in the very first chapter, but the real story is about how two very different sisters get on with their lives. It made me grateful for my happy childhood, but also grateful to have shared the lives of two such lively characters.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2014

    Great read

    This book pulls you in immediately and keeps you emotionally engaged. Did not want to put the book down...left me thinking about the characters while I was away from the book. Left me yearning to help children victimized by crimes.

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  • Posted December 1, 2013

    This was what I would call realistic fiction. I don't remember w

    This was what I would call realistic fiction. I don't remember why I initially made the decision to read it, but it must have been recommended to me on a reading list at some point. And I am glad I read it.

    The story is sad--and it ends rather sadly. Again, while realistic, it does not resolve like I would like it to. I sometimes have a love-hate relationship with realistic fiction. And this is probably one of those instances.

    I found myself going to bed each night thanking God for the wonderful family I have and everything for which I have to be thankful. I am a teacher, and I have taught students in the past who have gone through situations like the book describes. I had never considered how a family murder can continue to affect children throughout their lives.

    In the end, I would have liked the two sisters to have truly resolved their issues, but then again, I guess it is pretty common that people don't. I loved that the author acknowledged at the end that she had worked with people for ten years in the situations described in this book.

    The characters at times seemed 2-dimensional, and I got tired of the foul language and the more intimate sex scenes. I probably enjoyed the first part of the book better than the other two. Although the author throws us a curve or two in Parts 2 and 3 that are worth reading.

    All things considered, I liked the book more than I disliked it. Thus, my 3-star rating.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2013

    Great book

    Wonderfully written sad tale of two girls.

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