The blurbs for Glen Hirshberg’s novel Good Girls declare it a “standalone sequel.” That term, in itself, seems an oxymoron. It is meant to designate a work of fiction set in a previously established universe, but which isn’t a direct plot continuation. The writing in Good Girls, however, assumes a familiarity with characters and situations rooted in the prior narrative, Motherless Child. While there is some recapitulation, it amounts to too little-too late for those of us who didn’t read the first book.
Compounding that grievance are two complex parallel plot lines. One involving a fascinating vampire called The Whistler, and the other concerning the leader of a monster tribe, who is known as Aunt Sally. Sally and Whistler are somehow involved with each other, and both often invoke a character they refer to as Mother who presumably is a central character in Motherless Child. Aunt Sally’s part of the story employs the stylistic device of italics, which is rather distracting. Despite that vexing literary gimmick, and the inherent challenges of trying to connect the dots, there are rewards for readers who hang in with the tale. One is The Whistler. This sanguinary sadist savors the emotions of his prey; inhaling their fears, and lapping up their life force. He holds them in thrall with his eerie whistle, creating sensations such as this: “As though her nerves had erupted through her skin. If she looked down, she thought, she would see them all breaking into the air, shimmering and seething on the surface of her like mackerel.”
Another memorable monster is Sophie, a victim of The Whistler who lost her legs in the battle. Half-vampire and half-human, her reactions can go either way. She wryly reflects on her condition and provides lots of the most frightening and (often simultaneously) hilarious moments in the yarn. She also conveys melancholy; a sense of feeling disenfranchised from life. Several of the personages who populate the narrative have experienced profound loss, and are grappling for their place in the world. The author does a fine job communicating their anguish and struggle.
Glen Hirschberg is the recipient of a Shirley Jackson Award and International Horror Guild Awards. It’s unfortunate that the marketing machine has chosen to label his latest work a “standalone sequel” because it’s likely that many readers will read this book without the benefit of knowing the details of what occurred in Motherless Child. While utter speculation, reading the first novel would greatly improve the chances for an appreciation of the second.