When overbearing former big band star Francis Grayson mentions the “murdering bitches” who supposedly ruined his life, his resentful stepdaughter Elyse—always on the lookout for simple dirt on Francis—takes note. Intertwining narrative with Francis, Elyse stumbles across glimmers of big murder instead of simple dirt, while Francis moves perspective of his “bitches” back to the 1930s, to his childhood in Pennsylvania. His coming-of-age story centers on a mysterious painting and search for the artist who he believes can fix his feuding family. Aiding him in his quest is his mother’s lover, Aidan Madsen, who not only mentors Francis’ big band music career, but knows everything about two murders implicating the women in Francis’ family. The three narrators of The Angry Woman Suite—Elyse, Francis, and Aidan—weave together a picture of two disturbed families who meet their match in the young, determined to survive Elyse Grayson, and human to a fault hero, Aidan Madsen.
The Angry Women Suite is a complex tale that weaves in and out of many time periods and in the point of view of three characters. It’s the kind of book that you need to dedicate significant chunks of time to reading, just to keep the plot straight.
It’s difficult to decide which character to believe. Elyse appears the most trustworthy since she has little to gain by lying. Her story opens the book and as I reader I sympathized for her. She is forced to move away from people who love and care for her when her mother remarries Francis, a previously well known musician and band leader. However, her memories of events are influenced by the passage of time and the fact she is looking back at her childhood.
The second view point comes from Francis. He is such an angry, pompous character it’s difficult to like him or trust what he says. His frustrations over his own childhood and the secrets kept from him by his mother, aunt and grandmother have colored his opinions of the people around him. He believes he can do no wrong (every ill in his life is directly because of the “murdering bitches” not because of choices he has made) and moves through life as if the world owes him for the dysfunction of his childhood. That dysfunction influences his own behavior to Elyse as a parent. He is given a chance to know all the sordid details of his family and some hints as to why he endured the life he did as a child but he is so focused on himself and obtaining riches and celebrity he never takes the time to read Aidan’s journal.
Lastly we have Aidan. Aidan has the advantage of being there for it all, right from the beginning but his own view is colored based on his personal opinions towards the other players in the drama. He has watched all the major players in this drama grow up from children and his opinions have varied as time moves forward. It is obvious that he wears blinders when it comes to certain people. He just can’t see the bad in people or believe that his ‘friends’ could be deceptive. As a way to assuage his own guilt and to help Francis understand he writes a journal to explain the history of Francis’s family and why people are the way they are. It details certain events and how they directly relate to Francis but the journal leaves out information or doesn’t tell the whole story.
As a reader I felt compelled to keep reading so the ultimate mystery of these families would be revealed. By the end, I don’t think I really understood exactly what happened. Part of it could be because I did read it in little spurts. I forgot about certain events or what one character said to another that gave a clue to a later event. As I mentioned, this is a book that needs your full attention so you don’t miss a tiny detail that clarifies everything.
Overall, I enjoyed the story. I like the author’s style of writing and how she differentiated between the three voices throughout. Elyse, Francis and Aidan were very distinct. My biggest issue was the ending. I wasn’t totally sure I understood what happened and I was left with more questions.
3 out of 5 stars.
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Lee Fullbright is a fourth-generation Californian, raised and educated in San Diego. She is a medical practice consultant and lives on San Diego’s beautiful peninsula with her twelve-year-old Australian cattle dog, Baby Rae. The Angry Woman Suite, a Kirkus Critics’ Pick and Discovery Award winner, is her debut novel. Connect with Lee on her website, Facebook, Twitter, or GoodReads.