Imagine one of the most horrible things that can happen in a small town. A school shooting. A teenager walks into a middle school and kills the counsellor and a young girl.
The Boston Marathon attacks. San Bernardino. The Pulse Nightclub. People were outraged. They were glued to their televisions, to their web pages, to their Facebook feeds. They vocally expressed sorrow, horror, fury, pain. They cried for change. They raised money. They demanded action. And then they went back to their lives until the next one happened again.
The girl, Kelly Wilson, appears to be mentally slow and it looks like she had suffered from a lot of bullying in high-school and there were rumours of a terminated pregnancy and a shamed family sending their boy to school somewhere far away. Now she comes in dressed in Emo Clothing and starts shooting.
A man’s feet pointed up at the ceiling.
Behind him, to his right, a smaller set of feet splayed out. Pink shoes. White stars on the soles. Lights that would flash when she walked.
An older woman knelt beside the little girl rocking back and forth, wailing. Charlie wanted to wail, too.
Blood had sprayed the plastic chairs outside the office, splattered onto the walls and ceiling, jetted onto the floors. She had seen this before. She knew that you could put it all in a little box and close it up later, that you could go on with your life if you didn’t sleep too much, didn’t breathe too much, didn’t live too much so that death came back and snatched you away for the taking.
This is only part of the story. What The Good Daughter tackles is not one but two major dramas and I must say I read the whole book in close to two days.
The book is essentially a deeply emotional, character-driven family drama, set to the backdrop of two brutal crimes. The first happened years ago – two armed men forced their way into the home of young Samantha and Charlotte, murdering their mother and turning their lives completely upside down. The girls, now adult women and lawyers, are left with both the physical and mental scars; it is hard for the sisters to be around each other without serving as a reminder of the horrendous night that ruined everything.
The second crime, twenty-eight years later, is a school shooting that Charlie finds herself a witness to. When Sam returns to town, both of them are caught up in the case. It seems pretty obvious what happened – mentally slow teenager, Kelly, is caught literally with the smoking gun in front of two dead victims. But how much can Kelly be held responsible? Is everything as it seems? And, Charlie must ask herself: what, exactly, did she really see that day?
The two sisters act more like investigators than as lawyers and their father advocates the need to defend every human being, regardless of what sins they’ve committed. His opinion changes slightly after the horrendous attack on his family and he even advocates the need for the death penalty. Charlie seconds his opinion and to be honest, after reading what she went through, I agree too. Some human beings are just a waste of air.
“They pull back the drape, and there he is, this human being, this living, breathing creature. Is he a monster? Perhaps he has done monstrous deeds. But now, he is strapped down in a bed. His arms and legs, his head, are pinned so that he cannot make eye contact with any one by another inmate. This is the last thing this condemned man will ever see.”
Rusty’s keenness to defend the people from the lower stratus of society does change with time. He once defended a rapist and the rapist’s victim hanged herself in the barn following the vicious attacks that followed from the community and the ongoing pity looks. It does raise a valid question as to why rape victims are subjected to harassment when they should be counselled and cared for.
He said, “What a rapist takes from a woman is her future. The person she is going to become, who she is supposed to be, is gone. In many ways, it’s worse than murder, because he has killed that potential person, eradicated that potential life, yet she still lives and breathes, and has to figure out another way to thrive.” He waved his hand in the air. “Or not, in some cases.”
I don’t know which parts were hardest to read – the attack on the farm house and the death of Gamma, the girl’s mother and seeing one girl shot in the head and buried (barely) alive and the other chased through the woods barefooted – or the school shooting and seeing a young 7-year old bleed to death.
You won’t die , Charlie’s brain begged. You won’t surrender. You will graduate high school. You will go to college. You will get married. You will not leave a gaping hole in your family where your love used to be. “Make haste to guide me, oh Lord my salvation.” “Look at me,” Charlie told the girl. “You’re going to be fine.” The girl was not going to be fine. Her eyelids began to flutter. Her blue-tinged lips parted. Tiny teeth. White gums. The light pink tip of her tongue. Slowly, the color began to drain from her face.
Charlie was reminded of the way winter came down the mountain, the festive red and orange and yellow leaves turning umber, then brown, then starting to fall, so that by the time the cold reached its icy fingers into the foothills outside of town, everything was dead.
As the investigation keeps coming up with new clues that point to Kelly as the perpetrator including a video confession made in the hospital, Sam goes into the courtroom as her defender and puts up a case signalling that Kelly needs to undergo a psychiatric evaluation as she is highly sugestionable. Sam is also struggling with normal functions – she uses her cane a lot, she gets tired easily and her body needs constant care and alertness to be able to function normally.
This is all due to the bullet that was shot close-range into her head. The doctors said that it might have shaved off 10 IQ points – but this news, even though it might have been devastating for other people, for Sam it meant that she was no longer a genius prodigy but a very smart lady – which she goes on to prove by beating the odds and going to university and becoming partner in a law firm in New York that specialised in patent-cases.
Physical therapy. Occupational therapy. Speech therapy. Cognitive therapy. Talk therapy. Aqua therapy. Sam had to learn how to talk again. To think again. To make connections again. To converse. To write. To read. To comprehend. To dress herself. To accept what had happened to her. To acknowledge that things were different. To learn how to study again. To return to school again. To articulate her thought processes again. To understand rhetoric and logic and motion, function and form.
Subsequent to her brain injury, Sam’s temper had become almost unmanageable. There were countless studies that showed how certain types of damage to the frontal and temporal lobes could lead to impulsive, even violent, anger, but the ferocity of Sam’s rage beggared scientific explanation.
Charlie, the younger sister, stayed at home with the father and joined in the family business working as a lawyer for the people who could not afford one. She suffered miscarriage after miscarriage and had to have a pregnancy terminated due to the baby having no bones (rare disease). Her marriage was slowly disintegrating and even though she loved her husband, she could not see how she could offer him the family she thought he needed.
These two strong smart women are mini-copies of their parents. The smart father and the genius mother. It’s been a while since I’ve seen such interesting characters in a book. It makes a point for all the geeky females all over the world and tells a story about family and love and acceptance and fitting in with those who count. (And also an interesting lesson in parenting)
Gamma had never fit in with the Pikeville mothers, even before Rusty’s work had turned them into pariahs. Neighbors, teachers, people in the street, all had an opinion about Gamma Quinn, and it was seldom a positive one.
She was too smart for her own good. She was a difficult woman. She didn’t know when to keep her mouth shut. She refused to fit in.
You could not beat her at chess or Trivial Pursuit or even Monopoly. She knew all the questions on Jeopardy . She knew when to use who or whom. She could not abide misinformation. She disdained organized religion. In social situations, she had the strange habit of spouting obscure facts. Did you know that pandas have enlarged wrist bones? Did you know that scallops have rows of eyes along their mantles? Did you know that the granite inside New York’s Grand Central Terminal gives off more radiation than what’s deemed acceptable at a nuclear power plant? If Gamma was happy, if she enjoyed her life, if she was pleased with her children, if she loved her husband, were stray, unmatched pieces of information in the thousand-piece puzzle that was their mother.
Gamma smiled, her mouth awkwardly navigating the expression. “Pretty like Charlie. Very clever. Relentlessly happy. Always bubbling up with something to do. The kind of person that people just liked .” She shook her head. With all of her degrees, Gamma still had not deciphered the science of likability.
“She had streaks of gray in her hair before she turned thirty. She said it was because her brain worked so hard, but you know of course that all hair is originally white. It gets melanin through specialized cells called melanocytes that pump pigment into the hair follicles.”
Samantha leaned back into her mother’s arms. She closed her eyes, enjoying the familiar melody of Gamma’s voice. “Stress and hormones can leech pigmentation, but her life at the time was fairly simple—mother, wife, Sunday school teacher—so we can assume that the gray was due to a genetic trait, which means that either you or Charlie, or both, could have the same thing happen.”
All in all, the book is excellent. It discusses some hard subjects and has a few very gory and disturbing scenes which go on for pages. I am not squeamish by nature but I started crying when Charlie told Sam a very well kept secret during their father’s funeral. It is not as gory as American Psycho but it’s still very close. I also loved the fact that one of the characters had serious mobility issues and how she was working to overcome them. And I also loved the way the characters interacted with each other and their personality stayed consistent throughout the book.
PS: Also loved some of the humor:
Ben whistled for Charlie’s attention. He was holding up a blank sheet of paper. “Your dad kept my drawing of a rabbit in a snowstorm.” Charlie grinned. “Oh, wait.” He took a pen off the desk and drew a black dot in the center of the page. “It’s a polar bear’s asshole.”