three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
30-Sept-Oct-2007
user_rating: 
0

A-The Big GirlsAfter murdering her children, Helen Nash goes to a women’s prison in upstate New York. There, Dr. Louise Forrest tries to return Helen to sanity. But Dr. Forrest has problems of her own, including a divorce and an inpatient stay at a psychiatric clinic. Two additional narrators provide perspective: Ike Bradshaw, a corrections officer, develops a relationship with Dr. Forrest; and Angie, a Hollywood starlet, starts to date Dr. Forrest’s ex-husband. Their relationships come full circle when Helen, who follows the tabloids, decides that Angie is her sister. The novel charts a painful course through the mythology of motherhood, explores the links among the four narrators, and brings into focus the horrors of prison life.
Knopf. 224 pages. $24. ISBN: 1400041902

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"There are moments in The Big Girls … that feel so real, they resonate like great nonfiction. … The Big Girls carries a voyeuristic charge, the confessions so intimate you feel embarrassed for looking, but the whip-smart narration makes it impossible to turn away." Andrea Simakis

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Moore has a beautiful way of not gripping her characters too tightly, despite the fact that her novels are carefully constructed. … The impression one gets is of a failed system in which drugs and severe punishment are used instead of more permanent and humane forms of therapy." Susan Salter Reynolds

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"[W]hat truly seems to compel Moore. … is the possibility that the people you love most in the world might cut you up and eat you, or vice versa." Stacey D’Erasmo

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"To create a world in which an insane child-murderer sounds more sentient than anyone else, to make us believe utterly in that world and still want to keep on reading, is a remarkable feat. This novel is as horrible as it is great, and vice versa." Carolyn See

Minneapolis Star Tribune 3 of 5 Stars
"[The Big Girls], unflinching in its gaze on all manner of sickness and evil, is brutal in its facts but compassionate about the human beings trapped in them. … Plotting is not this novel’s strong suit." Brigitte Frase

San Diego Union-Tribune 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Her characters are wrenchingly vulnerable, haunted by past events. … For all its visceral force, however, The Big Girls is a maddeningly inconsistent, seriously flawed work." Gregory Miller

Critical Summary

Susanna Moore, author of In the Cut (which was made into a film starring Meg Ryan), does not shy away from disturbing subject matter. In The Big Girls, she uses horrifying crimes to explore the meaning of love, especially the mythological pure love of motherhood. Critics agreed that her central characters, Helen and Louise, are powerfully drawn and compelling, as is her terrifying portrait of prison—and institutional—life. While most praised the novel, a few found the subplots contrived and the multiple viewpoints distracting. Readers who aren’t put off by the many voices and the disturbing subject matter will not soon forget these two women and their stories.