It’s difficult to separate the problems of the prisoners from those of their keepers in this unrelentingly dark multilayered prison drama from Moore (One Last Look, 2003, etc.), told from the point of view of three women and one man.
After six months on the psychiatric staff at a woman’s prison in upstate New York, Louise is still struggling to adjust to the bleak conditions. At first, readers may wonder along with Louise’s coworkers why a woman with her credentials chooses to practice there, but the lonely, divorced Louise, whose only joy is her young son Ransom, carries her own psychological baggage. She becomes increasingly involved in the case of Helen, a particularly troubled prisoner/patient. Helen hears voices she calls The Messengers, and clings to the belief that she was protecting her children when she killed them. A victim of abuse that began in childhood and continued beyond marriage and childbearing, Helen also believes, with good reason, that her younger sister, given up for adoption by Helen’s mother, is now a rising Hollywood starlet. Helen begins writing letters to Angie, a pill-popping actress who coincidently is romantically involved with Louise’s filmmaking ex-husband Rafael. Louise becomes sexually drawn to a young prison guard, Ike. Although Ike has his own narrative sections, he remains a cardboard cutout of male attractiveness. After walking in on Louise and Ike in bed, Ransom tells Rafael that Ike accosted him sexually. Outraged, the never-fleshed-out but alluring Rafael whisks Ransom off to California, where Angie cares for him in dangerously haphazard fashion. Distraught, Louise begins to fall apart emotionally. Meanwhile, Helen slips deeper into psychosis and ultimately commits suicide. Angie, who has come to believe she is Helen’s sister, gets Ransom to admit he lied and brings him home to Louise, who has been fired from the prison and now misses it terribly.
Compelling, although nothing quite jells into clarity.