HOW A MONSTER IS MADE by RaShell Lashbrook is a haunting page-turner, the story of a family torn apart — and in a strange way, united — by an endless cycle of physical and emotional abuse. The story opens on Wyatt and Pearl Carter in the mid-1950s, an all-American couple with two young kids, Janie and Randy. Sure, Wyatt drinks too much, and Pearl turns a blind eye to his harsh treatment of the children, but they’re still a pretty normal family, right? Besides, if Pearl questions Wyatt he’ll turn his fists on her. Pearl’s father tries to help all he can, but he’s fighting a losing battle against his son-in-law’s drinking and womanizing and his daughter’s postpartum depression. After the birth of a third child, Pearl is unable to care for her kids, so Wyatt commits her to a mental institution. In Pearl’s absence, Wyatt hooks up with neighborhood floozie, Betty. But Betty doesn’t want to raise Wyatt’s kids either, so the children are shuffled around between their drunk father and their overwhelmed grandfather.
As Janie and Randy grow into adulthood, Randy adopts his father’s penchant for cruelty, while quiet Janie seethes with repressed shame and rage. The cycle of abuse continues, broken briefly when Pearl reemerges after seven years living in halfway houses and on the streets. That’s when HOW A MONSTER IS MADE takes a truly dark turn. The distorted lens of mental illness only amplifies the Carter family woes. Abusive relationships are built on foundations of love and pain. It’s hard to let go of one without losing the other. How do people love family members that hurt them over and over again? How can they not? And where does forgiveness fit in?
These are the tumultuous questions at the heart of HOW A MONSTER IS MADE. Lashbrook writes with an understated style that packs an emotional wallop, like noir greats Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain. The novel unfurls in short, punchy chapters, each more painful than the last. Lashbrook’s prose is as pared down and raw as the emotions of her characters. HOW A MONSTER IS MADE concludes the only way it can — the children of abusers grow up to be abusers themselves. Randy takes his father’s mistreatment of women to new lows of depravity, while Janie…well, we’re not exactly sure what happens to Janie. She meets a nice man at the novel’s close, but it’s hard to believe she’ll live happily ever after given her emotional baggage. Maybe that’s the point. Lashbrook’s refusal to tie up Janie’s story the way she does Randy’s is itself a statement about unresolved emotional trauma. It also gives HOW A MONSTER IS MADE a glimmer of hope in an otherwise dark — yet engaging — tale.
RaShell Lashbrook’s HOW A MONSTER IS MADE is a top-notch psychological thriller that explores one family’s journey through alcoholism, child abuse, and mental illness with a lean style reminiscent of classic noir crime fiction.
~Rob Errera for IndieReader