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The Big Girls
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on July 24, 2012
A mesmerizing book by the author of "In The Cut." Like "In The Cut," "The Big Girls" uses spare, unembellished language to describe intensely emotional events. The novel begins with a description of the prison; it is almost completely adjective free, and the effect is strong and sad. Once I started reading this story, I couldn't look away. The book's three main female characters are as different as can be, yet they all have the same issues (a funadamental maladjustment to reality) and clearly belong in the same book.

I've read the book 4 times now, trying to decode its magic. After the third reading, I noticed that the title, "The Big Girls," is a reference to a prison guard, Captain Bradshaw, who calls the inmates "the big girls." Bradshaw is depicted as an ethical and humane man. We learn that his estranged wife shot him in the shoulder with his own sidearm; she said he mistook him for an intruder. The very last sentence of the novel refers to whether his wife "will let him say goodbye to his little girl." It's the first time we've heard mention of the little girl.

Given the novel's subject (sexual abuse of children and its consequences), Bradshaw's backstory suddenly seems filled with dark potential. All the "big girls" in the novel are survivors of some sort of adult predation (including Louise, the high-functioning, educated, idealistic psychiastrist, who was 14 or 15 when first seduced by an adult). Suddenly Bradshaw, one of the most likeable characters, seems implicated as well.

The novel is incredibly sad, and dark, yet it draws you in to a tightly drawn, claustrophobic little world. In that way, it has the appeal of some children's books, like "The Lion, The Witch,and The Wardrobe," or "The River at Green Knowe," or some of Joan Aiken's novels or other children's books about alternate, enchanted worlds ("His Dark Materials," "Harry Potter"). It feels as though the characters in "The Big Girls" are living under glass, in a quietly intense, enchanted, dark little world. The novel is troubling in that it casts a spell over the reader, too, and while you may find you want to look away from some of the more horrible events, you cannot; you have been contaminated by the fascination of the story and are no longer free.
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on December 15, 2014
I read this after Gone Girl, based on recommendation. It's OK but not as good as Gone Girl; the large number of inmates in the prison confused me. Not sure that I'd pick up this author again. Maybe you will like it!!!
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on September 15, 2015
Interesting background
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on November 12, 2007
The characters were undeveloped, laughable; the writing was flat, amateurish. I find it perplexing to read the glowing reviews on this book, they are better written and more in depth than the substance of the book. This has changed my confidence regarding reviews on this site.
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on May 13, 2007
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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on February 15, 2008
Each of the characters which had narrations in this story all had their own distinct voices and points of views. I could not help but feel empathy for all of them, even the disturbed inmate Helen, who had murdered her own children.
It certainly is not an uplifting book; it more or less highlights the fragility, perhaps futility, of the human spirit. But as a novel, I just kept reading and reading. I wanted to know more about the characters. I wanted to hear what they had to say.
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on November 2, 2008
This story is good, but tends to get a bit confusing. The author uses the characters different points of view randomly and not always clearly. Its just "ok" to me.
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on September 2, 2007
Susanna Moore winner of the PEN Ernest Hemingway Citation and the Sue Kaufman Prize, has constructed a literary reflection of despair. The book is set in a dreary women's prison in New York called Sloatsburg Correctional Institution. The book introduces us to 4 main characters: Dr. Louise Forrest - divorced mother and Sloatsburg's chief of psychiatry, Ike Bradshaw - corrections officer and Forrest's love interest, Angie Mills - self-obsessed Hollywood star, and Helen Nash - convicted murderer.

As a result of some deep trauma in her youth, Helen Nash kills her children and becomes the patient of Dr. Forrest. Dr. Forrest is herself a divided person. She continually swings emotionally between her work and her maternal duties to her son. The story is centered around these women. The other characters swirl like the wind around their vortex, giving depth and color to their personalities.

I found the book frustrating at first, Moore uses first-person narration masterfully, but I found myself getting lost in the constant switching between characters. The first 50 page were the hardest, but I settled in and determined to finish. The prize was at the end and the prize was worth the difficulty of the journey. The book grows and expands outward with energy and purpose. If you only read one work of fiction this year, it should be this one.
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on July 6, 2007
I have heard so much about this book. Mainly from the reviews I've read. and I am not unfamiliar with Moore's work. This one just made me naseaus. It left me with a deep despair and sadness for the system in which we treat societies discarded. There are scenes that simply cannot be believed. If this is the psychosis of people, I do not want to know.
The characters are too contrived. The light inside the tunnel of their mind is too harsh and the tunnel is too narrow for the reader to climb inside. Granted, other readers feel differently, but I need some room to stretch and to imagine at least a little something on my own about the characters. It was so graphic I wished I hadn't eaten the cheesecake before starting in. I believe Moore to be skilled and crafty, but this one for me, made me wish that I had not glimpsed inside the dollhouse. It was a view I did not wish to see, worse, I did not want to believe in this kind of awful reality. I did not wish to buy the fresh roasted peanuts. There is a way to write about people in the penal system, and the locked up, and even the counselors, and prison guards; I just don't feel she has done even her own characters the justice they deserve. Though Moore should be commended at least, for trying.
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on June 3, 2013
The characters in Susanna Moore's novel "The Big Girls" are pitiful, but not likeable. Moore never finds anything sympathetic in their personalities despite all the sensationalistic horrors she recounts them experiencing. She seems to think these horrors are the way to attract readers - rather than a well-woven plot with complex characters.

Apparently, Moore's data mined all the true crime stories for the material comprising her character's backgrounds, but that's redundant to anyone who reads the news with an interest in the human condition. The character (Dr. Forest), who I take to be the protagonist, is hard to like, even contemptible in her sycophantic, fawning attitude towards the men in her life - from other reports, not too different from the author's real life attitude. The doctor's character is also shallow with no nuanced or novel observations in her profession capacity and such stale views on prison life. I felt I was wasting my time reading this book.
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