In Anissa Gray’s devastating novel, The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls, the fact that the matriarch of the family and her husband have been sentenced to prison for committing fraud is just the latest in a series of ruptures and betrayals for the Butler family. As the three Butler sisters take turns telling their stories, we realize that this crisis has just shown a spotlight on to all of the family’s closet skeletons.
Althea Butler is the oldest sister. Years ago, when her mother died, Althea was left to take up the role of mother to her younger siblings because their itinerant preacher father refused to stop traveling. Althea lasted four years, until she was 18 and married her sweetheart. Viola, the next youngest, bailed on her youngest sister and only brother when she got into college. Lillian struggled alone against her violent brother. Now, the sisters seem locked into the rolls they formed when they were younger. Althea is extremely stubborn and not always caring. Viola is terrified of responsibility and suffers from bulimia. Lillian struggles to care for leftover and abandoned family members to make up for things that were not really her fault.
I expected that this novel would focus mostly on Althea’s crime; I was very wrong. Althea’s crime remains in the background so that we can focus on what end up being more serious (but unpublishable) crimes the sisters have committed: playing favorites, abuse masquerading as tough love, emotional abandonment, refusal to apologize for past wrong. The emotional wounds run deep in the Butler family. All this might sound like it would make for a depressing novel. But, while there are parts of the book that are quite depressing, Althea’s sentencing may be the kind of crisis that forces the family to finally start making amends.
The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls is a deft but powerful portrait of a broken family. Above all else, it’s emotionally honest. Anything else would have felt cheap or too neat, especially given the effort Gray went to to create characters with fully realized mental illnesses and emotional trauma. Again, this sounds very depressing, but the characters–particularly Viola and Lillian–are stronger than they know. I love characters who discover their hidden depths even though they’ve been bruised and battered for years.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.