Family blood stains the pages of Meyers’ crisp and appealing melodrama in
which two girls confront a devastating act of violence that shapes much of their lives. Brooklyn
in 1971, and the shadows of Coney Island prove to be fertile background for a series of battles that are both the heartbeat and heartbreak of the Zachariah household. Even as ten-year-old Lulu dreams of deliverance from her “so-called family,” she watches helplessly as her mother Celeste is stabbed by Joey, her drunken and violent father.
As Celeste lies on the floor, her blood dripping on the green and brown linoleum in the stark kitchen light, Teenie, the neighbor from downstairs, holds the edge of her white cotton apron over the place on her chest where the blood pumps out the fastest. Meanwhile, Lulu’s younger sister Merry lies on her bed, her cute green sun-suit slashed down the middle, and Joey beside Merry, blood slowly leaking from his wrists.
Joey is eventually incarcerated for murder, sorry for the crime yet still capable of sending angst-ridden and desperate letters to his daughters, fanatically begging for forgiveness. From the moment Merry lies bandaged up in hospital, Lulu is forced to explain her sister that she wasn’t a bad girl, “that Daddy was drunk.” Yet Lulu blames herself for the tragedy. Maybe if she hadn’t let her father into the house in the first place, she could have stopped him from hurting Merry and killing her Mama.
From here the author catapults her heroines down through the decades in an emotional cat-and-mouse game as both are perpetually forced to mourn the loss of their mother. The past is a trap, and both woman are prisoners of their parents’ long-ended war. Besides her physical and emotional scars, Merry surprisingly binds to her father in both heart and spirit, visiting him in prison and clamoring to discover why he hurt her, the booze making him dead drunk mixed with stupid: “I couldn’t do it, I started to but I couldn’t, it didn’t go very deep.”
Meyers sensitively builds her narrative in layers, showing the ramifications of childhood trauma from within and without. Her prose is practiced and mesmerizing as she charts her protagonists' course through the stormy ocean of loyalty and love along with a remaking of the soul. Lulu and Merry enter a home for wayward girls, then as teenagers are sent to live with a kindly foster family. Later,
lonely, disconsolate Lulu studies medicine in Boston; Merry finds employment as a parole officer, juggling her incessant drinking and her one-night stands as they steadily take their toll on her psyche.
Ensnared in a prison of bad memories, the sisters spend much of their adult lives exchanging furtive glances, the secrets known and secrets buried constantly flashing between them. When innocent, guilty, and the powerful forces of recrimination converge, the very essence of Lulu and Merry’s fragile relationship is tested.
Wrapped together in “a wine-rendered love-hate,” Lulu and Merry are fine examples of the power of sisterhood. It
is the author’s humane and contemporary touch that brings so much depth to this novel, an affecting exploration of relationships framed around the powers of forgiveness and the evolving bonds of family love.