Review by Adrina Palmer
From the author of ‘Remember Mia,’ comes the tale of a young woman in search of her past, and the mother who will do anything to keep it hidden…
Hold on to your hats people; you are in for a bumpy ride. ‘The Good Daughter,’ by Alexandra Burt, is not for the faint of heart. Burt paints a vivid picture of skeletons tumbling out of the closet. Based in Texas, this tale chronicles the lives of several women. Deeply inside their heads, Burt pulls intimate thoughts and details to the forefront, slowly laying everything thing to bare. Only a couple of elements disrupts the perfection of this engrossing story.
Pet grew up in a succession of seedy motels and indistinguishable cars, moving from one location to the next. Her mother was the only person in her life, besides the few passing faces, before the mother and daughter kick up dust with their chronic midnight departures. The mother and daughter do not exist, until one day they settle in the tiny town of Aurora, Texas. Now they have names, Memphis and Dahlia Waller. For the first time, Dahlia, now a teenager, goes to school instead of being homeschooled in a cheap motel room while her mother works as a maid, under the table. Dahlia makes a friend and exists in the real world, but her mother’s past keeps their lives on the surface, and they are never able to exist in the world fully.
Once graduated, Dahlia can no longer stand the poor existence her mother has forced on her life, and she leaves. People who do not exist do not have a paper trail; without paperwork, Dahlia soon learns she is unable to find a life of her own. Fifteen years after graduation she returns to Aurora seeking answers. She wants to know why her mom called her Pet before settling in Texas. She wants to know why they have no paperwork that could help them to form a real life and real relationships, instead of skimming life.
Quinn was a chubby child raised by a doting father in the ’60s. Then daddy married a beautiful, selfish woman, Sigrid. Before long, Quinn’s father dies of a heart attack, leaving her alone with a step-mother who cares nothing for her. She drops her baby fat to emulate Sigrid and finds a lover. Then tragedy strikes her again. A group of men finds her stumbling away from her lover and assault her for hours. She keeps the rape to herself until an infection takes her to the hospital where she finds out she will not be able to conceive a child. Moving past her grief, she finds a husband, Nolan, and moves to Aurora, Texas.
Dahlia revisits an old friend, Bobby, finding home in the only human connection she has ever had. Her mother’s mental health begins to deteriorate and Dahlia worries she has returned too late to find the answers she seeks about her life. While out for a jog, Dahlia stumbles across a woman barely breathing and half buried in the ground. Her own personal Jane Doe, someone to focus on, a mission. But then Dahlia falls and hits her head leading to a succession of small seizures confusing her mind and putting her health in a precarious condition. She starts seeing and smelling ghosts. Now the lives of both Dahlia and Memphis are reaching the end too quickly with little time to understand how the past is still haunting them.
Quinn tries for years to love her husband and to provide a child, despite the less than optimistic opinions of her doctors, but a child never comes. As the years pass, her husband’s strange ways and inattention force her to see alternate methods to procure a child. She seeks out a mystic woman who’s price is too great for what Quinn wants. Too late she finds the price of her wants is more than her life can bare.
Dahlia is shocked when her closed lipped mother begins to share their past piece by piece. The shock of her discoveries and the trauma of Jane Doe, lead to a set of grand mal seizures. With her future and her past up in the air, Dahlia seeks comfort from Bobby and waits for peace amongst the storms.
The lives woven together in this story allow each character to be knowable and tangible. The way Dahlia’s life unfolds in the intermittent fashion of a childhood full of holes, is a thing of beauty. Putting this book down is impossible. No bookmark required because this book requires full attention. The end, while easy to see in the beginning, is no less diminished by the foreknowledge of the truth. The letdown comes from Burt dropping the ball on the seizures. This huge plot twist just dies off with no discernible understanding as to why. A few other areas were dropped in the execution, but with little harm to the overall story.
Despite a few departures from reality, The Good Daughter is a must read. Burt’s attention to the details of space and time are very specific, allowing a full picture to form in your head. The title of the book puzzles me. Dahlia was not necessarily a good daughter, despite being wanted. Her mother often seemed to find the child perplexing and precocious in her inability to accept their nomadic existence. There is still time to change the title of the book and fix the very few plot holes before the novel is released on February 7th.
Available in bookstores February 7th