Skip to main content

The Cherry Robbers


The Cherry Robbers

At first glance, THE CHERRY ROBBERS is a book about women dying. Sarai Walker writes about the wealthy, gun-manufacturing Chapel family. The last generation consists of six sisters, all born from a woman whose mother and grandmother died in childbirth. While Belinda did not suffer the same fate, she had to live with the horror of knowing that as she was coming to life, her mother was dying.

Iris and her five sisters, all named after flowers, grew up with a distant and cold father, a troubled mother who had no desire to be a loving parent, and various caretakers who made sure they ate and bathed. We first meet Sylvia Wren (formerly Iris), an extremely successful artist living in New Mexico with her partner, Lola. She fled her barren life in the wealthy Connecticut suburb where generations of Chapels had lived in order to strike out on her own following the deaths of her siblings.

"It's not a coincidence that the only women who survive to any degree are those who really aren't interested in men at all. Walker's premise is powerful and horribly depressing."

To say that this is a dark book is a gross understatement. One by one, we observe the events as each sister longs to leave her unhappy childhood home --- often ironically described as a wedding cake --- then dies almost immediately after the nuptials. Those who don't actually marry also die after simply engaging in a romantic liaison. While we meet Sylvia in 2017, the bulk of the book consists of Iris’ memoir as she recalls her childhood in the early 1950s.

It was a time when women of a certain class existed only to get married and serve as their husbands' entertainer, child bearer, nanny, chef and event planner. That is the expectation for the Chapel girls. Their mother, on the other hand, served in practically none of those capacities. She might have borne six daughters for her husband, whom she loathed --- but not only did she not provide him with a son, she refused to take an active part in raising the girls.

The symbolism of the daughters' names is apparent and powerful. They are, with the notable exception of Iris, like flowers: fragile, short-lived and, in the eyes of the men with whom they have sexual relationships, passing fancies and not fully human. Or perhaps not worthy of consideration as human beings at all. Other important symbols include drawings on the bedroom walls of the girls' childhood rooms and the imagery of women dying as they seek the only means they have to become independent. Ironically, this involves marrying and becoming wives to their husbands, who will control their futures in the same way that their father dominated their past.

It's not a coincidence that each girl dies after the consummation of her marriage or the beginning of a relationship. If the title of the novel refers to the men who inadvertently cause the deaths of their romantic partners, it's a very subtle reference as the story is not at all about the men, but rather the young women who use them as a way to escape.

It's especially interesting and an exercise in historical perspective to read THE CHERRY ROBBERS knowing that the United States Supreme Court is poised to take America back to a dark time in history when women were not in control of their bodies. Was each daughter born from the rape (albeit by their father) of their mother? Is each fictional death in the novel a representation of the death of a woman who will be unable to get an abortion for something as life-threatening as an ectopic pregnancy? The men in the book are not, for the most part, sympathetic characters. They blithely marry for convenience without considering the consequences or truly knowing their partners.

While this novel is certainly not about abortion per se, it's clearly about the loss of control that women have suffered through, often with fatal results and always with psychological harm. If a woman dares to experience emotions that aren't in line with those of her husband's or society's, the simple and expedient solution is to have her committed to a sanatorium. For her own good, of course. It's not a coincidence that the only women who survive to any degree are those who really aren't interested in men at all. Walker's premise is powerful and horribly depressing.

Reviewed by Pamela Kramer on May 20, 2022

The Cherry Robbers
by Sarai Walker

  • Publication Date: May 16, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction, Gothic, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0063271583
  • ISBN-13: 9780063271586