‘The Good Daughter’ uses horrific violence to evoke pity and terror

  • Kirkus Reviews
12:00 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017 Insight and Books
‘The Kelloggs,’ Howard Markel

“The Good Daughter,” Karin Slaughter’s latest break from the punishing travails of Dr. Sara Linton and Will Trent (“The Kept Woman,” 2016, etc.), uses a school shooting to reunite two sisters who’ve had compelling reasons for avoiding each other in the years since their own childhood horrors.

Twenty-eight years ago, two masked men broke into attorney Rusty Quinn’s Georgia home looking for the man of the house, the kind of lawyer who gives lawyers a bad name. In Rusty’s absence, things went south instantly, leaving Gamma Quinn dead, her daughter Samantha shot in the head and buried alive, and her daughter Charlotte fleeing in terror. Sam somehow survived and rose above her brain damage to become a successful New York patent attorney; Charlie remained in Pikeville, joined the criminal defense bar, and married ADA Ben Bernard. But she and Ben have separated; she’s taken solace in some quick sex with a stranger in a parking lot; and when she goes to the middle school where her one-night stand works as a history teacher to pick up the cellphone she left behind, she walks into the middle of a shooting that brings back all her own trauma. Goth girl Kelly Wilson admits she shot and killed Douglas Pinkman, the school principal, and 8-year-old Lucy Alexander, but Rusty, whose inbox is already overflowing with hate mail provoked by all the lowlifes he’s defended, is determined to serve as her attorney, with Sam as a most unlikely second chair. In addition to the multilayered conflicts among the Quinns and everyone else in town, Sam, who urged her sister to flee their childhood nightmare, and Charlie, who’s had to live with fleeing ever since, will have to deal with memories that make it hard for them to sit in the same room.

It’s hard to think of any writer since Flannery O’Connor, referenced at several key moments here, who’s succeeded as consistently as Slaughter at using horrific violence to evoke pity and terror. Whether she’s extending her franchise or creating stand-alones like this, she really does make your hair stand on end.

Warts-and-all history

Howard Markel’s “The Kelloggs” is a dual biography of the highly successful Kellogg brothers, who “fought, litigated, and plotted against one another with a passion more akin to grand opera than the kinship of brothers.”

One brother invented Corn Flakes, and the other was the most famous doctor of his time. They hated each other. Readers who suspect their lives might provide entertainment will not be disappointed by this delightful biography by Markel (“History of Medicine/Univ. of Michigan; An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle Drug Cocaine,” 2011). In 1876, physician John Harvey Kellogg (1853-1943) took charge of a small Battle Creek sanitarium that followed Seventh-Day Adventist principles of vegetarianism and abstinence from tobacco and alcohol. A charismatic promoter and author, he vastly expanded the sanitarium and became a world-famous media doctor. His advice represented a vast improvement over 19th-century practices of infrequent bathing, excessive use of alcohol, and a diet heavy on meat, fat, and sugar. He was prescient in advocating exercise, clean water, stress reduction, and plenty of sleep but also relentless enemas, as little sex as possible, and absolutely no masturbation. No businessman, John hired his brother Will Keith Kellogg (1860-1951) to manage the enterprise, rewarding his efficiency with low pay and no respect. It was only in 1906 that 46-year-old Will escaped, launched the Kellogg Company, and made a fortune. John responded with more than a decade of lawsuits and a lifetime of sniping. Markel refreshingly resists the temptation—not resisted by films and novels—to deliver caricatures. Embracing scientific medicine, John was a skilled, respected surgeon who was charitable and uninterested in riches. Will was a brilliant entrepreneur, a considerate boss, and founder of a world-class humanitarian foundation. The author effectively shows the brothers’ “remarkable success was mutually dependent if not outright synergistic.”

“The Kelloggs” is a superb warts-and-all account of two men whose lives help illuminate the rise of health promotion and the modern food industry.

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