Good fiction always tells an engaging story, but sometimes it goes further and stimulates the reader to think about difficult topics.
Joan Nesto, resident of Hingham, is a mortgage broker and mother of two teen daughters. While still very much immersed in parenting, she still finds time to volunteer teaching English as a second language.
Reading for Joan has been a lifelong pleasure, but now she prefers contemporary fiction that stimulates her thinking, as opposed to merely providing light entertainment.
With that perspective, she recommends Randy Susan Meyers’s 2010 debut novel, “The Murderer’s Daughters,’’ which explores the long-term impact of domestic violence.
The novel begins with an act of deadly violence in the home of two sisters, Lulu and Merry. One day before Lulu’s 10th birthday in 1971, their father returns home in a drunken state, after having been kicked out. Despite her mother’s dire warning not to let him in their apartment, Lulu can’t ignore her father’s demand.
After he bullies his way in, Lulu hears her parents struggle, and runs to neighbors for help. But when she returns, she finds her father has not only murdered her mother, but critically stabbed 5-year-old Merry and tried unsuccessfully to kill himself.
Merry survives, but the two girls are left parentless with their mother’s death and their father’s imprisonment. The girls’ extended family refuses to take them in, and they are forced to live in a group home, where bullying and violence continue. Even when they are finally taken in by a wealthy foster family, the girls recognize that the only bond they can fully trust is the one they have with each other.
For the next 30 years, the novel follows Merry and Lulu as they each try to put their fractured childhoods behind them. Although they acquire many of the tools they need to succeed in adulthood, the psychological wounds clearly remain. And even from behind prison walls, their father continues to implore them to remain in his life.
Although disturbing, the well-written novel ultimately uses the skillful character development of two young girls to delve into the powerful issues of domestic abuse and violence, and the aftermath of pain, guilt, anger, and eventually, hope.
Nesto called the book “an incredibly thought-provoking novel which labels domestic violence for what it truly is: a heinous crime that robs children of the healthy childhoods they deserve, and the unencumbered adulthoods they hope to have.’’
“In the end,’’ Nesto said, “it’s ironic that a work of fiction may tackle painful realities in such a way that makes it possible for us to meaningfully engage in thought and dialogue about it.’’Nancy Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.