Millar’s debut views a working-class family plagued by domestic violence through the gray-tinted glasses of a child who knows no other kind of life.
With sparse simplicity, eight-year-old narrator Janet Roberts details a pivotal summer in the history of her dysfunctional kin. Her father (always referred to as Dick Roberts) liberally provides the violence that escalates over the course of each week. Fueled by long nights working at the auto factory and sleep-deprived days, he erupts into physical abuse by Wednesday. Mum scrubs and bleaches, but can’t eradicate or even reveal the violence that holds her family prisoner in their pristine home. Alcoholic Aunty Net blots out the pain of losing her own children, taken away and placed in foster care. Nan, the matriarch, stoops to despicable tricks to control her daughters and grandchildren. Amid all this pain and heartache, Janet’s 11-year-old brother James, the main target of his father’s wrath, comes of age and perpetuates the cycle of domestic abuse. Sometimes the children find temporary respite at Aunty Net’s chaotic house. Or, sequestered in their bedroom, they lose themselves in the fantastic stories that Janet tells. But the author soon drops this fantasy element to focus narrowly on a litany of abuse, police involvement and health problems. The murder of a young girl who had been Janet’s friend catapults the family into a state of paranoia that at least brings clarity about their dreadful situation. This sets up a hopeful, but not fully believable, ending.
Grimly monochromatic, the intended impact is muffled by an emotionally immature narrator and a stereotypical batch of dysfunctions.