Tag Archives: “The Big Girls”

THE BIG GIRLS by Susanna Moore

Moore I recently read Susanna Moore's The Big Girls, a novel about a women's prison outside New York City told through four perspectives: Louise, a psychiatrist at the prison; Helen, an inmate serving a life sentence for killing her two children; Ike, a police officer working at the prison who gets romantically involved with Louise; and Angie, a Hollywood actress with whom Helen corresponds. The Angie storyline is a little bizarre, but it makes sense in the overall scheme of the book. This was the first Susanna Moore book I have ever read. I've known her as the writer of In the Cut, her novel with S&M themes, but haven't read it.

The Big Girls is a pretty brutal book. Moore is unflinchingly honest – almost dispassionate – about the horrors of these women's lives. Most of them have committed heinous crimes (mostly against family members), and most had very difficult lives beforehand. I was drawn to this book because I have always been fascinated by prisons, and I found her depiction of life in prison, while painful to read, quite interesting. My chief complaint about the book is that the themes of abuse, violence and abandonment are so rampant that I almost became numb to them. No character is spared, not the psychiatrist, not even the actress. It was almost hard to keep some of the inmates apart in my mind because their stories tended to bleed together into a morass of sadness and violence.

Louise, the psychiatrist and probably the book's main character, is also a bit puzzling. She has her own demons, but doesn't really seem to understand them or their effect on her. Her relationship with Helen, which starts out normal, veers into the inappropriate, while her relationship with her young son quickly deteriorates. I found her lack of introspection, or at least her lack of clarity about herself, frustrating. 

I didn't love this book, but I didn't have a hard time getting through it. Moore is a good writer. I am glad I read it – this is a world that many of us rarely think about. I think The Big Girls will stay with me for a long time.

Vacation Wrap-up

I am back from vacation. It was a relaxing week at the beach, with some (not enough – never enough) time for reading. I finished How To Talk To A Widower by Jonathan Tropper (reviewed here) and At A Loss For Words by Diane Schoemperlen (reviewed here) and am well into Family History by Dani Shapiro, which I am having a hard time putting down. I was up very late last night reading it and am quite enjoying it, though it's quite a difficult story.

One highlight of the trip was my annual visit to the very best bookstore on the planet: Island Bookstore in Corolla, NC. It's not a large store, but its fiction selection is better than any I have ever seen in any other bookstore, chain store or independent. I always find books there I've never heard of before. And I had my annual book gossip session with Meaghan, the Island Bookstore fiction expert, who came from behind the counter to take me through the shelves and point out new fiction to me. Her comfort zone for books is definitely wider than mine, so she pushes me to expand my tendencies beyond my usual "domestic fiction" themes of family and relationships.

Moore I wrote down the titles of a number of books that either Meaghan recommended or that I discovered on my own on Island Bookstore's shelves, and I'll share them here over the next month. Here's the first one – and this is one I actually bought from the store. It's called The Big Girls by Susanna Moore. It's the story of a women's prison, told by four narrators, one of whom is a psychiatrist at the prison. Here are a number of reviews of the book. It is apparently graphic, at times even violent, but it also sounds like a fascinating depiction of the world inside the prison, as well as the often very disturbed worlds inside the inmates' minds. It's now in my impossibly large TBR pile. If you're intrigued, here's the first chapter, reprinted on NYT.com.

Many more Island Bookstore recommendations to come.