A family’s demise unfurls in the shadow of a mysterious murder.
Its first half narrated by a gang of bullies, renowned Dutch author Dorrestein’s (A Crying Shame, 2011, etc.) brooding story begins in an outwardly utopian setting—a respectable Dutch housing estate where neat bamboo gardens are tended and traditional family roles are filled without objection. However, “in the sea of maternal bodies” that comprise the matriarchs of the neighborhood, one girl’s mother stands out. “Gazing at her, you’d feel so happy and dreamy inside that you couldn’t believe she could seriously be somebody’s mother.” Six-year-old Lucy and her mother live on the periphery of the estate—with two male lodgers named the Luducos—in a home where happiness is freely inhabited and not dictated by what’s socially acceptable. As the kids in the neighborhood note in amazement, Lucy lives by her own rules. She “had sailed a pirate ship” and “spilled hundreds of glasses of orange squash, too, without any dire fallout.” But the tides change when a new family arrives and the son becomes Lucy’s boyfriend. When Lucy’s mother wants to leave the neighborhood, a storm, both literal and figurative, rolls in, leaving the boy’s father dead in its wake and Lucy’s mother pegged as the murderer. Sworn to never talk about what happened, Lucy recites the lines she’s fed about that night, leaving the particulars of the crime a mystery. From here, Dorrestein’s idyllic town sheds its civilities to reveal a menacing portrait of domestic harmony disrupted. With her mother in prison, Lucy is left in the doting care of the Luducos. But at school, she resolutely suffers merciless bullying as atonement for her sins. While Dorrestein’s writing is terrifically bleak at its best, the macabre is deployed shrewdly. When Lucy gains control of the narrative, moments of tenderness—like a heartening correspondence she maintains with her mother in jail—peek through. As Lucy fumbles through her adolescence, and eventually starts a new life with her family on a Scottish island far away, Dorrestein’s tale becomes less a murder mystery and more a disquieting reflection on how people construct their own versions of the truth.
Frighteningly clever. The haunting landscapes Dorrestein creates are as real as they are darkly fantastical.