It is told alternately in the voices of the two sisters, the elder, Louise or Lulu, and the younger Merry. They are growing up in Brooklyn with a beautiful but dissatisfied mother, and a hardworking father who loves his wife to distraction. Finally, the slipshod mother kicks the father out because he bores her, and tells the girls to never let him in the house.
One night when the mother is sleeping, the father, drunk and angry and desperate, comes to the door and persuades Lulu to let him in. He wakes up the mother, they get into a terrible fight into which the younger girl tries to intervene. The father picks up a knife and stabs the mother to death, and then tries to kill little Merry, only 5 years old. Meanwhile, Lulu has run for the help of a neighbor, who arrives in time to save Merry. The father is caught, tried, and sentenced to life in prison.
The girls are sent to live first with their maternal grandmother, and when she becomes ill, they go to live with their mother´s sister, who never liked the father. That didn’t last long, and they were put into an orphanage. The paternal grandmother was not well enough to take on two young children, so they lived in the awful orphanage until their teens, when a kindly social worker took them into her home. The older sister becomes a doctor, and the younger one works first as a parole officer and later as a victim’s advocate. Neither are particularly likable, and why should they be? All their efforts go into psychological maintenance as they struggle to find a way to come to terms with this.
The story is about how they coped in their different ways with surviving, and living with the knowledge of the horrific act the father did. The older one tries to pretend he is dead, and the younger one feels obligated to visit him often, trying to repair the damage to the family.
I think it is the kind of book you either really like, or really hate. It either hits the right tone for you, or it seems overly dramatic and hokey. For me, I thought it did what it was supposed to do, and I liked it. The characters of the various family members rang true. I have known people exactly like them. In many ways it was a hard book to read, and that in itself says something positive about the writing.