“…I remember a story that I read. A Native American tale where the Cherokee tells his grandson there’s a battle between two wolves in all of us. One is evil, the other good. The boy asks him, Which wolf wins? The Cherokee tells him, The one you feed.”
This is a story I’ve heard before, but I’ve never seen it more aptly played out than in Ali Land’s Good Me Bad Me.
The premise for the book seems ripped from the headlines of an only slightly alternate reality. A female pedophile and serial killer of small children enlists her own daughter as both helper and cover story, simultaneously abusing the daughter and making her feel complicit in the crimes.
Until one day the mother goes too far and kidnaps a boy that 15-year-old Annie, the daughter, is close to. Annie breaks free- in multi-layered ways you will find as the story unfolds- and turns her own mother in to the police.
Annie, now known as Milly, is ensconced in a new foster family with her past kept hidden and secret for her own safety while her mother awaits trial- a trial at which Milly will have to testify. The family consists of Mike, a psychologist who seems to be a serial collector and discarder of troubled young girls and who is secretly writing a book on Milly’s life based on their sessions; Saskia, his barely-there wife floating in a haze of pills and starvation and infidelity; and Phoebe, their similarly-aged daughter, beautiful yet bitter and sad inside, who immediately begins a campaign of bullying and torment against Milly.
To Milly, even the twisted, run-of-the-mill dysfunction of this family glows like a warm, safe spot to curl up in and she aches to become a permanent fixture.
All the while, the voice of her mother speaks to her; the voices of her mother’s victims accuse her and scenes from her past threaten to wash over her in a red haze at any moment.
There are no cardboard characters here; even the background players are faceted with the complexity of true humans. The age-old question of nature versus nurture is brought into stark relief, but also delved into even further. How much is also choice? Aren’t we all a bit monstrous in our own ways? What happens when you can’t tell the difference between the good wolf and the bad?
Good Me Bad Me is available from Flatiron books in September.