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Little Cruelties


Little Cruelties

Award-winning Irish author Liz Nugent is hoping to make a name for herself domestically, and her latest release, LITTLE CRUELTIES, just may accomplish that.

This is the story of the three Drumm brothers, whose lives are compared at one point to a Greek tragedy (I agree with this assessment). Many psychological thrillers employ the use of multiple narrators, but Nugent reaches back into her film background for the book’s presentation, which will keep your wheels spinning right up to the revelatory ending. As an actor, I typically look at things from this perspective.

Each part devoted to William, Brian and Luke is given to us in a haphazard order, jumping around among childhood, the recent past and the present in a seemingly random style. This immediately made me think about two-time Academy Award-winning director Alejandro Inarritu. The movies for which he received the Oscar, Bird Man and The Revenant, was filmed in a linear fashion. But some of his older work, like Amores Perros and 21 Grams, was done in much the same manner as I am describing LITTLE CRUELTIES. Rumor has it that he put each shot of those films on index cards, threw them up in the air, and filmed them in the order in which they landed.

"LITTLE CRUELTIES is an intriguing read that will engulf you in [the brothers'] saga until you find yourself finally coming up for air prior to the startling final portion of the novel."

We are presented initially with a funeral. All three brothers are there, but one of them is in the coffin. The mystery aspect of the novel involves weaving through each of their narratives to try to discover who is deceased at the start of the book. They grew up in a family that appeared to be close but had the same dysfunctional issues from which we all suffer. To begin with, their mum was a semi-famous actress/singer/performer who cared more about the stage and her various affairs than her husband and children. However, she always doted on her oldest boy, William, and he responded in kind. William recalls that his dad’s death finally broke the family apart. He was crushed, Brian behaved as if nothing happened, and Luke, once a devout Catholic, would never attend Mass again.

William grows up to be an independent film producer who enjoys moderate success. Much like his mother, he dallies in several extramarital affairs that eventually leads to his American wife, Susan, divorcing him. The only good thing from that marriage is his daughter Daisy, who when younger adored her father. As she became an awkward teen, there was a sequence at the Cannes Film Festival where she saw what a womanizing, chauvinistic and sometimes violent person he could be, and this drove a permanent wedge between them.

Things go out of order when we next jump to the youngest sibling, Luke, who is probably the most interesting character. Luke is mostly neglected by his brothers growing up and eventually is all but disowned by his mum --- especially when she confesses to him that she was raped and later hates him for bringing it up again. After much of his early youth spent as a near-religious fanatic who attends confession daily, he finds a knack for music. As a singer of a middling band, he falls into all the traps --- drugs, women, unreliability, etc. Luke eventually goes solo and becomes one of the biggest teen idols on the planet. The fall from stardom as he gets older is a hard one, and years of psychiatric treatment, which includes brief commitment, would be his life. It is only towards the end of the novel that we see Luke somewhat regain himself.

Finally, we have middle brother Brian, my least favorite character. Brian fully embodies middle-child syndrome to the nth degree; he is jealous of his siblings' successes and always drones on about his misshapen nose. He becomes a teacher in France at a university, but that ends when he is wrongfully accused of pedophilia and strikes his headmaster. The only relationship that means anything to him is the one he has with Susan. His attitude never really changes throughout the book. He wants to look like the knight in shining armor for his drug-addicted brother, his wayward niece and Susan, but none of it is genuine.

The brothers' “little cruelties” to each other rip such a schism between them that it is just a matter of time before one of them loses his life. The trick is to figure out who is in that coffin and why he had to die. LITTLE CRUELTIES is an intriguing read that will engulf you in their saga until you find yourself coming up for air prior to the startling final portion of the novel.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on November 13, 2020

Little Cruelties
by Liz Nugent