Either way, finding myself at loose ends, I scrolled down my kindle library and, when the title caught my eye, started reading it, without the least idea what it was about, but assuming (and, yes, I know how that goes), that it was a suspense of some kind.
I honestly don’t know why I made it past the first chapter, but at some point I was almost–almost, but not quite–hate reading. So I made a deal with myself: if it didn’t get better by the time I hit the quarter mark, I would give up. At twenty-seven percent in, I skimmed some of the end chapters, and threw in the towel.
No you get to see why. (Aren’t you the lucky ones?)
Fair warning: if you enjoy Mr Kellerman’s novels, you probably want to skip this review.
The Murderer’s Daughter, by Jonathan Kellerman
Here, have a blurb:
A brilliant, deeply dedicated psychologist, Grace Blades has a gift for treating troubled souls and tormented psyches—perhaps because she bears her own invisible scars: Only five years old when she witnessed her parents’ deaths in a bloody murder-suicide, Grace took refuge in her fierce intellect and found comfort in the loving couple who adopted her. But even as an adult with an accomplished professional life, Grace still has a dark, secret side. When her two worlds shockingly converge, Grace’s harrowing past returns with a vengeance.
Both Grace and her newest patient are stunned when they recognize each other from a recent encounter. Haunted by his bleak past, mild-mannered Andrew Toner is desperate for Grace’s renowned therapeutic expertise and more than willing to ignore their connection. And while Grace is tempted to explore his case, which seems to eerily echo her grim early years, she refuses—a decision she regrets when a homicide detective appears on her doorstep.
An evil she thought she’d outrun has reared its head again, but Grace fears that a police inquiry will expose her double life. Launching her own personal investigation leads her to a murderously manipulative foe, one whose warped craving for power forces Grace back into the chaos and madness she’d long ago fled.
Perhaps reading the blurb would have helped in preparing myself, because I spent the first eight chapters trying to figure out whether anything was going to happen, anything at all, let alone something that related to the title.
The narrative starts with Grace’s birth and early childhood, and then jumps thirty or so years. We stay in the present for a few chapters, then back to where we left off in the past for a chapter or so, then back to the present, so that we are basically following two timelines.
(I still have Miss Marple very much in the brain; one of the shticks in those stories is the fact that Miss Marple’s nephew is a successful writer, and that she doesn’t quite understand how this is so, because she herself finds the characters he writes about quite unlikable. Well, that’s where I was with Grace.)
The way she thinks about her patients–“The Haunted,” capitalized and everything–feels so…other-ing? so disdainful? Not as fellow human beings, but objects to manipulate. I got the impression that our Grace felt very much superior to everyone around her, while believing herself to be compassionate. Every word, every touch, every look, is coldly calculated to elicit a specific response from her patients, but there’s no actual, real, honest feeling involved there.
Thinking about all that brought a smile to her lips, which was perfect, the moment called for a smile, let Bev think it was all about her. (Chapter eight, no page number)
Then we have the ‘dark side,’ which consists of bouts of driving eighty-plus miles an hour down the highway, with her eyes closed, to feel like flying. Very obviously, there’s a suicidal impulse here, but for all Grace goes on and on about how much she cares, she doesn’t give a thought to anyone else on the road while she pulls these stunts. It’s all about her.
Or putting on made up personas, hooking up without protection–or even a mutual agreement to hook up–then enjoying humiliating the men she has just conned into fucking her. Worse, from my point of view? This is not about sexual agency. Grace doesn’t even enjoy the sex during these episodes (for lack of better), it’s the power she likes.
Grace is not simply a manipulator, she’s cold and detached in the extreme, and whether or not this is explained by her own trauma, I spent entirely too much time wondering, why on earth should I care about anything she did or thought, or happened to her.
It did not help that I found the writing so affected, so preoccupied with being ‘literary,’ that it became off-putting. Of course Grace doesn’t think herself pretty, but the author spends pages going on about her looks, her dress, her shoes, with descriptions like this:
One tiresome would-be poet tagged her eyes “twin lodes of precious ore.” Fool’s gold was more like it and the face they occupied was too long for the perfect oval, though sheathed with smooth ivory skin stretched tight over fine bones. Sprinkles of butterscotch freckles sprouted in interesting spots all over her body. One man had designated the pointillist patches “dessert” and set about licking everyone of them. Grace let him do his thing until he started to feel like a dog’s water bowl. (Chapter 2, no page number)
Generally speaking, the descriptions just go on and on, and on. Everything, but everything, is described with the same level of detail, with apparent disregard to whether or not it matters to the narrative.
Oh, and then there’s the obviously male gaze. For example, before bed, Grace exercises–but not like a man, oh no; she doesn’t do “40 push-ups.’ She does “40 girl push-ups.” (chapter 7–no page number). Pray tell me, why was the distinction necessary to the narrative? What point was made here, other than, “she’s not good enough”?
I think it would have been a lot easier if the book was told by an omniscient narrator, but since it’s all from Grace’s point of view, written from what felt to me as a very male perspective (she doesn’t take a bath, she soaks in the tub; she doesn’t relax, she mentally schedules masturbation–in the shower¹)
As the book goes on, we meet mostly horrible people doing terrible things to each other, and terrible things happen to the few people who aren’t horrible.
Oh, and there are swipes to everything from welfare programs, to foster parents, social workers, cops, waiters…No, seriously, every person seen through Grace’s eyes is either a victim or an asshole.
Life’s just too short to spend it with these people, particularly when viewing them from the inside of Grace’s psyche.
The Murderer’s Daughter joins the (so far very short) list of DNF reviews around here.
~ * ~
¹ Sorry, is this a thing for women, to masturbate standing up, when there’s a perfectly good bed within reach? Call me limited in my experience, but this sounds more like what boys/young men do.