Full of twists and turns, It’s 1965 in a tight-knit working-class neighborhood in Queens, New York, and Ruth Malone–a single mother who works long hours as a cocktail waitress–wakes to discover her two small children, Frankie Jr. and Cindy, have gone missing. Later that day, Cindy’s body is found in a derelict lot a half mile from her home, strangled. Ten days later, Frankie Jr.’s decomposing body is found. Immediately, all fingers point to Ruth. As police investigate the murders, the detritus of Ruth’s life is exposed. Seen through the eyes of the cops, the empty bourbon bottles and provocative clothing which litter her apartment, the piles of letters from countless men and Ruth’s little black book of phone numbers, make her a drunk, a loose woman–and therefore a bad mother. The lead detective, a strict Catholic who believes women belong in the home, leaps to the obvious conclusion: facing divorce and a custody battle, Malone took her children’s lives. Pete Wonicke is a rookie tabloid reporter who finagles an assignment to cover the murders. Determined to make his name in the paper, he begins digging into the case. Pete’s interest in the story develops into an obsession with Ruth, and he comes to believe there’s something more to the woman whom prosecutors, the press, and the public have painted as a promiscuous femme fatale. Did Ruth Malone violently kill her own children, is she a victim of circumstance–or is there something more sinister at play?
Another book that made me terribly angry! A great story, no doubt, but so incredibly unfair. And yet, I can’t seem to stop reading this kind of books, as you all know I’m a masochist. Little Deaths (I ADORE the title!) instantly caught my attention. It was set in the 60s and the blurb seemed like it would be a real page-turner. Plus, feminism.
Because this book had such a unique plot! It’s a mystery, sure, but it’s also a tale about sexism and double standards. About police corruption and news stories. About judging people without knowing the whole story. And this is exactly what happens to Ruth, the main character of Little Deaths.
Ruth is an independent woman: she’s separated from her husband and has two kids, aged four and five. She sleeps with whoever she wants, she drinks, she smokes… so when her two kids disappear, she’s the one everyone suspects. But why? Just because they don’t like her. Because the men around her (and the women!) don’t think she’s the kind of woman she should be. And what can you possibly do when you’ve got everyone against you? The theme reminded me a bit of Noah Hawley’s Before The Fall and my verdict is that public opinion is the worst. If they were cruel to a man, imagine it’s a woman in the 60s.
Only a couple of people seem to believe her, and one of them is Pete Wonicke, a young journalist who becomes a bit obsessed with her. To be honest, I didn’t like Pete at all, as I felt he was only trying to help because he felt attracted to her. The one I liked the most was Gina, but I also felt so sorry for Ruth. She wasn’t particularly likable, but I hated how everyone just assumed she was a bad mother just because she wasn’t like the others. She might not be crying for the cameras, but have you even considered that she might be dealing with this her own way? Ugh, people.
I found this a fast-paced read (there’s a lot of dialogue), and it was also super well-written. I especially loved the opening chapter, where we learn about Ruth’s present (the prison) and her past (what happened before), as it was written in a very unique way. The story that followed in Little Deaths was told from a third-person omniscient point of view, which means that we get to know what everyone else around Ruth is thinking. I liked that, although I didn’t feel so connected with the characters as a result.
I’m proud to say I did love Little Deaths‘ ending. The conclusion felt fitting and it also left me quite shaken, which I always love. Those are the best stories, don’t you think? I really recommend this book, as it deals with an important topic and might make you think.
P.S This would make an extraordinary film.
Picador, 2017 // ARC