Tuesday, April 18, 2017

book journal: Little Deaths by Emma Flint

The backstory: Little Deaths, Emma Flint's first novel, is on the 2017 Baileys Prize longlist.

The basics:  "It's 1965 in a tight-knit working-class neighborhood in Queens, New York, and Ruth Malone--a single mother who works long hours as a cocktail waitress--wakes to discover her two small children, Frankie Jr. and Cindy, have gone missing. Later that day, Cindy's body is found in a derelict lot a half mile from her home, strangled. Ten days later, Frankie Jr.'s decomposing body is found. Immediately, all fingers point to Ruth."

My thoughts: When the Baileys Prize longlist was announced, the title I was most excited to see was Little Deaths. It got a lot of pre-publication buzz, and it was billed as feminist literary crime fiction based on a true story. I love all of those things. It was the first longlist title I picked up, and as eager as I was to read it, I found the pace very slow. The title alerts us that Frankie and Cindy die, yet they don't die on the page for some time. Immediately, speculation is on Ruth. Ruth is a complicated woman who is judged unfairly, but in ways that are familiar.

Part of my issue with this novel is wrapped up in what it is and what it is not. Fair or not, Little Deaths is billed as a crime novel, and while it is, undoubtedly about a crime, I would not classify it as a crime novel. The focus isn't on solving the crime. Instead the focus is split on exploring Ruth's life after the death of her children and on a reporter Pete Wonicke, who takes an unhealthy interest in the case and Ruth. I found his character odd and his actions increasingly bizarre (and not in an interesting way.)

Overall, the book didn't have enough narrative momentum for me. I wasn't sure where I was supposed to focus. The killer (to me) clearly wasn't Ruth, but Flint doesn't spend enough time exploring suspects. To be fair, the fact the police don't do this work because they're focused on Ruth is pivotal to this story, but it's also very dull. Part of me hoped for an ambiguous resolution, but instead Flint chose an incredibly disappointing approach that made me not much care for this novel that didn't accomplish nearly enough with its execution.

Favorite passage:  "He stopped at the next corner and wrote down the details and found his fingers itching to describe Salcito’s heavy walk, his lost expression. But he told himself he would not do that because it was unnecessary. It was unprofessional. When, in fact, he did not want to make this man human. He was not a character in a story to be identified with: he was a possible witness, a possible accessory, a possible killer."

The verdict: I found the pace of Little Deaths too slow and the mystery to be so glaringly obvious I was embarrassed it's billed as crime fiction. Flint explores a fascinating story, but I think it would be better executed on film.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: January 17, 2017
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Little Deaths from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

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  1. Bummer -- sounds interesting from the blurb but your review makes me think I'd be better off passing. (Also, stuff involving children are kind of iffy for me right now, so really, passing is probably best!)

  2. It's too bad you didn't enjoy this one! The premise sounds super interesting. Maybe new time! ;-)
    -Amy @ burstingwithbooks.com


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