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The Big Girls (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – May 6, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In spare yet hypnotic prose, Moore (One Last Look) examines the bond between a young psychiatrist and a mentally ill patient in her devastating sixth novel, set at an upstate New York federal women's prison. Sloatsburg Correctional Institution, a former sanitarium on the west bank of the Hudson, is dangerous, understaffed, underfinanced and overwhelmingly grim. The place epitomizes what's wrong with our nation's prison system and stands as a warning about our growing mental health crisis. Moore deftly shifts perspective among her principal characters—Dr. Louise Forrest, Sloatsburg's psychiatry chief; Helen Nash, a suicidal inmate who's been convicted of killing her children; Capt. Henry "Ike" Bradshaw, a corrections officer who's in love with Louise; and Angie Mills, a Hollywood actress (and Louise's ex-husband's girlfriend), whom Helen believes is her long-lost sister—as the action hurtles to an oddly satisfying resolution. Reading this heartbreaker is like watching a train wreck while dialing for help on your cellphone. You can't turn away. 75,000 printing; author tour. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From The New Yorker

Set in a women’s prison on the Hudson River, Moore’s sixth novel chronicles the aftermath of a highly publicized murder and its impact on four intertwined lives. The story is told in the alternating voices of Helen, who has long suffered terrifying schizophrenic hallucinations and is serving a life sentence for killing her two small children; Helen’s psychiatrist, a single mother who came to work at the prison out of guilt over a patient’s suicide; a corrections officer who becomes involved with the psychiatrist; and an ambitious Hollywood star whom Helen believes to be her sister. Moore gradually probes Helen’s psychosis to its horrifying origins, while also delivering a nuanced and devastating account of the fights, rapes, and alliances built from necessity that constitute prison life.
Copyright © 2007 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (May 6, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400076102
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400076109
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,780,242 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By J. A. Davis on July 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Although the subject matters explored in this book are not ones I particularly wish to think about it, I found myself utterly engrossed. Set in a women's prison, this haunting story is told through the viewpoints of four very different people (yet all linked together in some way). I found the author's style of writing through short entries, jumping back in forth between each equally fascinating character to be clever and refreshing. That may sound confusing, but one could certainly follow the storyline and figure out what was going on in no time. What I couldn't figure out, was how it would end. Not for the faint of heart, this book was emotionally wrenching and equally shocking. I definitely recommend it, especially for a book discussion group.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Phillip Phan on May 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This could have been another story on human error and redemption. It's not. Four people, warden, prisoner, doctor and guard, are caged together in their pain and neuroses. If you think you know prison life, and why people end up in prison, read 'Big Girls'. Moore writes with a clinical precision that evokes powerful emotion. I did not anticipate feeling sorry for the women at Sloatsburg; they are, after all, the detritus of our society. But 'Big Girls' is not about the politics of the criminal justice system or a commentary on social ills (though it could well be.) I chose to read it the way Moore wrote - as compact narrative and incisive dialog. Read this at least twice and then read it again.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Dave Schwinghammer VINE VOICE on July 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
THE BIG GIRLS will remind you a whole lot of the Andrea Yates case. One of the main characters, Helen, is an inmate at Sloatsburg women's prison, imprisoned for murdering her children. Her husband, Jimmy, is also a religious fanatic, as was Yates's husband.

The other major character is Dr. Louise Forrest who forms an inappropriate attachment with Helen. Dr. Forrest has some issues of her own. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between the two.

Two other characters are given viewpoints in the novel: Angie, a Hollywood actress, and Ike Bradshaw, a prison guard who "romances" Dr. Forrest.

I had a little trouble with the structure of the novel. It's written in first person in kind of a journal style. All of the entries are rather short, so the story has trouble building any momentum.
Susanna Moore embraces the RUE mandate, resist the urge to explain. One is never quite sure who is doing the narrating without surfing for context clues. Moore is such a talented writer, however, that I eventually got used to it.

The prison scenes also sound more like a men's prison than a women's prison. There are gangs, rampant homosexuality, drug taking, and fights. The women even carry shanks. All of this is extremely depressing. But I have a feeling this novel will stay with me for a while, as did IN THE CUT the first novel by Moore that I read. It reminded me of LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR. Moore got a blurb from Joyce Carol Oates, so you know she's no light weight.

Moore has some scathing things to say about our celebrity-obsessed society. Angie, the Hollywood actress who has been writing to Helen takes advantage of her relationship with Helen, garnering a book offer and other money-making opportunities. That said, Angie is probably the most boisterous character, adding a bit of humor to an otherwise graphic novel.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Panopticonman on August 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover
It was only when I read this book the second time -- a week after I finished it the first time -- that the intricacies of Moore's narrative approach really registered on me and the larger philosophical issues inherent in this approach became fully visible.

An example: Is Dr. Forrest's standard treatment of Helen Nash responsible for Nash's suicide? Pursuing a therapeutic program of integrating Helen's second identity, Ellie, and Helen's avenging demons, The Horsemen, into Helen's emotional repertoire and self-understanding, Dr. Forrest succeeds in "blowing her mind." Without these coping mechanisms, Helen is unable to confront herself and her deeds, and so, confronting a terrifying reality, kills herself, performing the death penalty that the state did not choose to perform in her sentencing. Interestingly, because Helen kills herself while under Dr. Forrest's care, Dr. Forrest's employment is terminated, and so in a way, Helen works some small revenge on her counselor (Helen had originally planned to kill Dr. Forrest under the guidance of The Horsemen, but chose to kill herself instead).

Another example: Is Dr. Forrest's sympathy for Helen and other prisoners counterproductive and dangerous? Dr. Forrest stands between the state and its prisoners, a position she recognizes as the contradictory crossroad between the state's desire to at once punish and redeem its prisoners. Tending toward the redemptive side, she makes complaints against inhumane prison policies. Less idealistic prison employees, i.e., doctors and guards, warn her against following her sympathies. From experience they know it will "get her into trouble." Eventually they are proven right.

Another example: By seeking to do good, does Dr. Forrest do evil? Dr.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer on July 1, 2008
Format: Paperback
I did like the fact that this book was written from 4 different points of view and that was what I liked most about this book. The storyline is solid enough, but it seems like there is too much content included and some doesn't really add to the story.

While, I didn't expect that this book would be fun and cheerful. I didn't expect that it would be quite so disturbing. In fact, there are a few parts that I found impossible to read because of the content.

I also found much of the content to be quite crude and offensive. I realize that this story is set in a prison and that's how it is, but didn't think some of the content I considered to be "crude" lined up with the story, especially considering which point of view was represented.

Not a horrible book, but a bit too disturbing for my taste.
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