The Mur­der­er’s Daugh­ters: A Novel

By – September 16, 2011

Think of two lit­tle girls wit­ness­ing the mur­der of their moth­er by their father. Think of one small child sub­se­quent­ly stabbed by the same father and sent all alone to the hos­pi­tal. It is painful to envi­sion, and yet, we are not naïve, and know such vio­lence exists. Now imag­ine how the crime, the loss, and the knowl­edge of their impris­oned father wait­ing for them to vis­it affects the girls in every step of their devel­op­ment and every moment of their adult lives.

With excel­lent craft Randy Susan Mey­ers gets us inside the heads of sis­ters Lulu and Mer­ry. We are with them at the hor­rif­ic event, as they are reject­ed by fam­i­ly mem­bers and sent to a Dick­en­sian orphan­age, then into a safe but dif­fi­cult fos­ter home, and on into adult­hood, one as a doc­tor and one a parole offi­cer. Choos­ing to hide their past from just about every­one, the sis­ters are bound to each oth­er by a promise that is wear­ing to the core. Not a day pass­es with­out wrestling the tug of fam­i­ly loy­al­ty vs. the wish for obliv­ion. We share the ironies of their sav­ing and giv­ing life, find­ing and hold­ing onto love, and above all else the ques­tion of forgiveness.

Per­haps read­ers will find the sto­ry unusu­al or more dis­turb­ing as the fam­i­ly was Jew­ish. How­ev­er, the sad real­i­ty of this com­pelling tale is the sis­ters cop­ing alone, with­out any community/​religious sup­port we might have antic­i­pat­ed. The author acknowl­edges the extra­or­di­nary ben­e­fit of such sup­port as she reflects on her own life.

Pen­ny Metsch, MLS, for­mer­ly a school librar­i­an on Long Island and in New York City, now focus­es on ear­ly lit­er­a­cy pro­grams in Hobo­ken, NJ.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Randy Susan Meyers

1) The book begins with the state­ment, I was­n’t sur­prised when Mama asked me to save her life.” As read­ers, we soon learn that Lulu, the nar­ra­tor of this sec­tion, is not able to get help in time to save her moth­er. How does this impos­si­ble fail­ure deter­mine the course of Lulu’s life? Why do you think the author chose to begin the nar­ra­tive with this state­ment, and how does it shape the reader’s response to the vio­lent scene that fol­lows? What does this state­ment reveal about Lulu’s expe­ri­ence as a daugh­ter up to the point of her mother’s mur­der? How does the bur­den of this expec­ta­tion deter­mine her choic­es in life?

2) The nov­el begins with the mur­der of the main char­ac­ters’ moth­er by their father, from Lulu’s per­spec­tive. The nar­ra­tion of the nov­el then moves back and forth between Mer­ry and Lulu. How do you think this nar­ra­tive struc­ture allowed you to under­stand the char­ac­ters moti­va­tions in their dif­fer­ent ways of cop­ing with the for­ma­tive trau­ma of their childhood?

3) What was your response to Merry’s need to stay attached to her father, and even emo­tion­al­ly care for him, despite his vio­lence to both her­self and her moth­er? How does Merry’s attach­ment to her father com­pare to Lulu’s need to deny his existence?

4) Were you sur­prised when the Cohen fam­i­ly took in Mer­ry and Lulu? Mer­ry and Lulu have trou­ble adapt­ing to their fos­ter fam­i­ly, just as their fos­ter fam­i­ly has trou­ble ful­ly embrac­ing Mer­ry and Lulu. The scene of Thanks­giv­ing was par­tic­u­lar­ly dif­fi­cult for every­one. What was it like for you, as the read­er, to expe­ri­ence this fam­i­ly scene? Did you find your­self judg­ing or sym­pa­thiz­ing with any­one in par­tic­u­lar? How did it con­nect to the vision of fam­i­ly pre­sent­ed through­out the novel?

5) Both Mer­ry and Lulu choose careers that are relat­ed to their ear­ly expe­ri­ences of trau­ma. The scenes of their respec­tive train­ing, Mer­ry as a vic­tim advo­cate and Lulu as a doc­tor, help the read­er under­stand the vis­cer­al con­nec­tion between their ear­ly trau­ma and their pro­fes­sion­al choic­es. Do you think that their work lives allow them to cre­ate mean­ing from their suf­fer­ing, or does it hin­der their abil­i­ty to devel­op beyond their ear­ly experience?

6) Lulu con­sid­ers Merry’s inabil­i­ty to be in a long-term roman­tic rela­tion­ship the result of Merry’s loy­al­ty to their father. Do you think this is accu­rate? Are you sur­prised that Mer­ry accepts her father’s help when she returns to school? Despite Lulu’s judg­ment of their father, Mer­ry feels a duty towards him. Might there be any pos­i­tive aspects to her fil­ial loyalty?

7) Lulu describes her­self as a reluc­tant moth­er, and through­out the book she has trou­ble show­ing the devo­tion to moth­er­hood that Drew expects of her. What do you think holds Lulu back from ful­ly sur­ren­der­ing to her role as a moth­er? How does your under­stand­ing of Lulu as a moth­er change after her daugh­ters are held hostage in the courthouse?

8) Both Merry’s clients and Lulu’s patients depend on them to make life-chang­ing choic­es about their lives. Their own child­hood was bleak; where do you think they found the abil­i­ty to offer such com­pas­sion to oth­ers? Do you think they would have made the same types of choic­es, if Ann Cohen had not been their fos­ter mother?

9) The title of the nov­el, The Murderer’s Daugh­ters, defines Mer­ry and Lulu by their father’s vio­lence. The nov­el ends soon after Joey is released from jail, and has served his debt to soci­ety. Do you think that Mer­ry and Lulu will ever be able to tran­scend their role as a murderer’s daugh­ter,” What would hap­pen to them if they did?

10) What do you think their moth­er would have want­ed for her daugh­ters? Would she have been able to under­stand their choic­es about alter­nate­ly deny­ing and embrac­ing family?