An explosive family of three young sisters and their promiscuous mother descends into suicide and murder in this dark romance told by multiple narrators.
The novel begins with the memoirs of Monica, who’s confined to an institution for the criminally insane. She’s killed someone, though we don’t know who until much later. Eighteen and filled with self-loathing, Monica muses on the lofty dreams she had when she married her high school sweetheart, Carl. But as Carl takes the spotlight, via his diary, readers soon see he’s an impotent drug abuser who likes to beat Monica. The light in the gathering darkness is Monica’s sister Betsy. A librarian whose chores and gifts for the family often go unappreciated, she’s a loving soul who says her prayers each night before bed. The third sister, Ellen, who loved partying, sex, and drugs until a car accident left her wheelchair-bound, is looked after begrudgingly by her embittered spinster aunt Lucille. Adding toxicity to her daughters’ lives is Jean, the widowed 38-year-old mother. A cougar on steroids, narcissistic Jean devours men on sight, and is terrified of being alone. Ratcheting up the lust and tension is Wayne Brown, a James Dean–like figure. He and Betsy fall in love, leading to the plot’s violent conclusion and the family’s downfall. Throughout, the variety of voices and perspectives maintains interest, and raw earthiness such as Brown’s is often balanced by poetic flights of yearning and exaltation. Dennis—pseudonym of David D’Aguanno (Don’t Mess with Brett, 2012, etc.)—withholds the identities of the victims and other key details until late in the game. This enhances suspense and drama to a point, but at times, the extended delay in disclosure seems contrived. Even so, the characters live loudly. The lustful and manipulative mom, in particular, writhes and steams on the page. Irreproachable Betsy, though sometimes gushing in her diary, also plays an effective Beauty to Wayne Brown’s Beast.
Brutal romance occasionally marred by melodrama, bringing to life a tormented family of women and their men.