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Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada
My virtue is that I say what I think, my vice that what I think doesn't amount to much.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Big Girls

Susanna Moore's The Big Girls is an intelligent girls-behind-bars novel. There are four narrators : Dr. Louise Forrest, a prison psychologist, Helen, an inmate who murdered her children, Ike Bradshaw, a guard at the Sloatsburg Correctional Institute and Angie, a Hollywood actress who lives with Dr. Forrest's ex-husband, Rafael. The women have a lot in common, unpleasant pasts and self destructive tendencies. Bradshaw seems peripheral and I don't know why he is given a big voice.
There are violent acts galore in the inmate community, stabbings, scaldings and nasty talk. These prisoners have committed terrible crimes because they come from incredibly brutal backgrounds. There is sex too, girl on girl and Dr. Forrest on Ike Bradshaw and Angie on Rafael and Dr. Forrest's son, Ransom, watching some of it.
Louise Forrest is a lonely, yearning character with a past who gets drawn into her patients' sad lives. She crosses the barrier between professionalism and friendship and ends up losing her career.
Moore is drawn to depravity. In less skilled hands a novel like this or In The Cut could be merely sensationalistic but Moore is an effective storyteller who draws the reader in. I've read everything she's written and think she's marvelous. I recommend The Big Girls to anyone looking for a dark, psychological story that portrays complex characters intricately and with sympathy.

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