Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense by Sarah Weinman is a short story anthology of forgotten female crime writers. I was offered a copy to review via email by Lindsay from Penguin Press and gladly accepted it thinking that it was totally up my alley. And I was wrong. This was the perfect book for me and I actually gave it 5 stars at GoodReads, something I do not usually do.
Murderous wives, deranged husbands, deceitful children, and vengeful friends. Few know these characters—and their creators—better than Sarah Weinman. One of today’s preeminent authorities on crime fiction, Weinman asks: Where would bestselling authors like Gillian Flynn, Sue Grafton, or Tana French be without the women writers who came before them?
In Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, Weinman brings together fourteen hair-raising tales by women who—from the 1940s through the mid-1970s—took a scalpel to contemporary society and sliced away to reveal its dark essence. Lovers of crime fiction from any era will welcome this deliciously dark tribute to a largely forgotten generation of women writers.
I have to admit I had no idea who Sarah Weinman was and just recently saw that many of you are following her on Twitter, so, the moment I accepted this book for review I did not know much about it since most of the short story authors were also unknown to me (except for Highsmith and Jackson). I also have to admit I was not a short story fan then and I did not really know how to read the book. But in mid-August I hit an almost-reading slump and with yet another heat wave around bringing me down I decided to keep myself busy and this book seemed the perfect solution: my task would be to read a short story every night so that I could think about my reading in both a short and long-term period. And it worked! Needless to say, the high quality if this short stories was key to keep me engaged and eager to read in bed every night.
One of the things that first called my attention was the use of “daughters”, “wives” and “domestic suspense”. As someone interested in women’s representation in fiction, I know that women were for centuries relegated to the domestic and the private spheres, so it is only natural that they wrote about their lives and their struggles. But I had never thought of crime fiction as having had such a period. So, this book opened quite some doors to the 20th century crime fiction written by women, and what a period! These short stories were back then famous, published in crime fiction magazines and many of them even won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for short story. So, how is it that many of the authors’ names are unknown nowadays?
Now, regarding themes, characters, style and pace these short stories are masterpieces. I do not use the term so lightly, but these short stories are just perfect. Characters come up as familiar after reading two or three sentences and it is quite easy to get yourself involved in their stories and sympathise with their points of view. The style is, to refer to the title, domestic: these women were writing about the settings and the problems they knew best and it shows. Most short stories happen at home, with the family involved and they turn out to be an exploration of the everyday: settings and people we take for granted to be safe and familiar but that due to such qualities can be more terrifying than someone holding a gun in a dark alley.
I would like to thank Sarah Weinman for this amazing short story collection thanks to which I am now a fan of the genre and have decided to keep the tradition of reading a short story every night. It is also necessary to highlight how important it is that we celebrate all the authors in the anthologies nowadays, because they were pioneers in inscribing modern women in crime fiction.
I cannot recommend Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives enough to everyone interested in crime fiction or women’s history. Although we tend to think of the hard-boiled (male) detective as typical of the mid-20th century, there were women at that time writing successful crime fiction, women who won awards and even saw their works turned into movies. Women that we have now forgotten and need to be remembered.
UPDATE: You can read an excerpt from the introduction here.
UPDATE II: Vist the website Domestic Suspense here.