New York, 1965. Ruth Malone is going through a divorce. She is separated from her husband and working as a cocktail waitress all while she fights for custody of her two children. Ruth is trying to do the best she can as a mother, but she has her own issues to contend with. Her life is turned upside down one morning when her children are missing from their bedroom in her apartment. From there things go from bad to worse. They are found dead and Ruth is the prime suspect.
Apparently this novel is getting some buzz, but I can’t say I’ve heard a lot about it. I believe that it is classified by many as literary fiction, but there is obviously a mystery at the core of it. I say this because if you go in expecting a gripping mystery you might be disappointed. The plot goes rather slowly and the focus is less on who did it and more on Ruth herself. It studies her character and how rough life was for single mothers in the 60’s. Ruth is judged by her appearance and her vices. Other suspects are tossed aside in favor of pinning the murder on the woman who doesn’t fit the wholesome mother stereotype. This is interesting, but I didn’t find it that compelling and I did not feel that it brought up anything particularly new. To top it off, I found the mystery part of the novel to be very predictable. So, overall, I was bored by this read.
Ruth as a character is simply OK. Nothing about her is original. She drinks too much, has too many men, and cares about her appearance too much according to her community. The injustices she experiences are terrible of course, but it wasn’t unexpected for this time. Strangely, we see much of the plot from another character, Pete Wonicke. Pete is a young reporter who takes an obsessive interest in the Malone children’s murders. He believes Ruth is innocent and goes to great lengths to help her. Though it is interesting to see the events from an outside perspective as well as Ruth’s, I am not on board with the idea. Pete is a thin character who feels like a perspective vehicle. He adds very little to the plot as a character on his own.
This read was just OK. It isn’t as gripping as a mystery should be and it isn’t as introspective and thought provoking as I feel literary fiction should be either. It feels out of place and rather thin.