Two sisters re-examine their relationship as one of them stands trial for murdering the other’s infant.
Martha Blackwater’s 8-week-old baby, Layla, suffocated while she was under her aunt Becky’s care. The book opens several months after the baby’s death, as Martha attends Becky’s trial, desperately hoping to be convinced of her sister’s innocence. Becky had been working as a nanny for Layla, a plan the sisters hatched when Becky complained about her dead-end job as a set designer. Feeling as though she’s never measured up to her perfect older sister, Becky is determined to excel at being a nanny. Doctors hypothesize that Layla suffers from gastric distress, but they are unable to alleviate her symptoms, and the baby cries incessantly. When Martha leaves town on a business trip at the same time that her husband, Scott, is traveling, Becky is left to care for Layla, and to suffer her endless crying, for two nights. The prosecution now insists that the child’s interminable crying pushed Becky over the edge, leading her to smother Layla into silence. As Martha listens to the prosecution, she cannot believe that Becky would ever harm her child. However, with each witness’s surprising testimony, Martha begins to wonder whether she’s ever known her sister at all. As Martha and Becky take turns narrating this tale, they provide details on both the courtroom events and their personal histories, showcasing their deep bond and subtle resentments. The author also includes chapters told from the perspectives of several witnesses, with each of these chapters appearing immediately before the same witness testifies in court. Rather than feeling repetitive, this approach emphasizes the differences between real-life events and courtroom testimony, a medium through which facts can easily get warped. Through these varying perspectives, the author draws complex, nuanced characters while also illustrating the litany of emotions that can torment bereft parents. With fast-paced prose and several unexpected twists, the author skillfully weaves a web in which any of the characters might be the guilty party.
For those who can withstand the difficult subject of infanticide, a suspenseful courtroom drama full of poignant flashbacks and unique insights.