Imagining the unimaginable

As depicted on TV shows like Oz and in movies like Dead Man Walking, prison is a gray, gritty world of men and violence. But what about women’s prison? That’s a subject that’s gone largely unexplored (save for fantastical 1960s B-movies and porn) — till now. In Susanna Moore’s new novel, The Big Girls (available 5/1), the author breathtakingly depicts the desperation and hopelessness of both the inmates and the staff. Moore deftly shifts narrative point of view among four characters — a woman convicted of murdering her children, the psychiatrist assigned to her, a wary corrections officer, and a Hollywood starlet — all written in spare, haunting prose.

The novel is a reminder of what’s wrong with our prison system and the treatment of the mentally ill, but it also demonstrates how there’s more than one way of living in a cage. (If Oprah picks this for her “book club” — as she certainly should — and it becomes an overnight sensation, remember where you saw it first.)

BUY The Big Girls (Knopf; 240 pages; hardcover)

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Imagining the unimaginable