Author: Alexandra Burt

Publisher: Berkley

ISBN: 978-0-451-48811-4


I requested a review copy of Alexandra Burt's novel The Good Daughter because the premise is interesting: What do we really know about our parents? "Dahlia Waller remembers an early childhood filled with stuffy cars, seedy motels, and traveling the country under assumed names before mysteriously settling in Aurora, TX. But as an adult, having distanced herself from her mother, she has so many questions." The novel slowly, slowly, slowly answers those many questions.

When the book opens, Dahlia is in her early 30s having returned to Aurora after fifteen years away. She and Memphis, her mother, had settled in Aurora when Dahlia was about twelve after a childhood on the road, home schooled, and regularly taking off in the middle of night for another town, another state. Her mother would not enroll her in public school because officials wanted "paperwork" and Memphis had no paperwork, wanted to answer no questions.

In chapter one, Dahlia goes jogging in the woods near their rented house and comes across a beaten and partially buried young woman and is apparently attacked herself. The young woman is in a coma for most of the book, and whenever the action flags, we're reminded that she's in the hospital waiting to awaken and reveal who she is and what happened to her.

Dahlia narrates her own story throughout the book, but Quinn's story is told in the third person. While Burt is coy about revealing Quinn's relationship to Dahlia, most readers will have twigged to it long before they're told. We read about Quinn's sexual initiation in a loving, blissful scene in the woods with a Hispanic boy who eventually becomes Aurora's sheriff. The boy leaves 17-year-old Quinn in post-coital languor, and three violent, filthy, brutal hunters find her, beat, and gang rape her. One consequence is that Quinn becomes infertile.

Nevertheless, Quinn marries, Nolan, the dissolute son of a decayed Texas family who wants nothing more than a son and heir. They live together for ten years in the family farmhouse a ways outside of Aurora and Quinn apparently never tells her husband she cannot conceive. One evening in the middle of a hurricane, a feeble-minded and pregnant young girl, Tain Fish, shows up at the farm. Quinn takes the girl in, and buries the stillborn fetus not far from the farmhouse in which she and Nolan live.

Now living on this isolated farm: Quinn, ten-year married who cannot have a baby; Nolan, soured on his marriage but wants nothing but a baby; and Tain, a simple, compliant young girl who has demonstrated her fertility. What do you think happens?

I do not what to give away much more of the story. Perhaps other readers will be enchanted by the improbabilities, coincidences, and cliches that fill The Good Daughter. For example, if the mother had a loving sexual experience with the sheriff as a boy, wouldn't you expect the daughter to have a loving sexual relationship with the sheriff's son, now a cop? I would and she did.

I had no problem with the switch in point of view from Dahlia's first person to Quinn's third person. I did have a problem late in the book when Quinn is abruptly telling her own story. I do not understand the function of Aella, a conjure woman who lives alone in the woods, tells fortunes, and concocts herbal potions and creams. I found her unnecessary to the story and a distraction. I also had a problem with the last fifty or sixty pages of a very long—368 pages—book by which time I had figured out Quinn's story but which she tells Dahlia in dribs and drabs and teases the reader. On page 282: "She has been holding on to it [the story] for many years, and now it is her obligation to release it from her memory." But she doesn't for another fifty pages or so.

I'm afraid that after the first couple chapters, I found neither the characters nor the situation plausible. I did read The Good Daughter to the bittersweet end, but I also found it easy to put down. But that just may be me; other readers may find Dahlia, Memphis, Tain and the rest of the cast both believable and engaging.