It has been a long time since a novel captured a time and place as powerfully as Emma Flint's shattering debut ... she is hardly the creature of low morals and icy veins who is driving tabloid sales. Her devastating inner monologues reveal quite the opposite: Her grief 'was black and hungry and huge like an open, roaring mouth...And inside it: the loneliness, the loss, the lost-ness.' In portraying '60s New York culture with all its boozing, corruption and sexism, Flint goes where Mad Men dared not go. That the author is British makes her achievement all the more amazing.
It is a reimagining that is deftly done and centres on the vivid portrait of Flint’s version of the mother, Ruth Malone. Flint pulls the reader into the finely observed working-class Queens neighbourhood, where the heat shimmers on the crowded apartment buildings and the social surveillance of women is palpable ... The strongest sections of the novel allow us behind Ruth’s brittle mask of makeup and pride. Flint describes her grief, loss and loneliness with a tough delicacy that is both exact and heart-wrenching. Her haphazard, nicotine-drenched good-enough mothering is wonderfully written, as is her ambition to escape the confines of the small town she left: to lead a better life, a bigger life than the one allotted her because of her sex ... The opening chapters are gripping but there is a lag in the tension in the middle section. Flint writes powerfully of Ruth’s stunned grief, a grief she deadens with alcohol and sex. The last third of the book, her trial, is absolutely riveting. The ending may or may not convince you, but that is perhaps immaterial: Little Deaths is a strong and confident addition to the growing trend of domestic dystopias – novels about flawed, angry, hurt women navigating hostile social and intimate milieus that turn viciously punitive when those women rebel.
Even though Flint is British, she nails with authority the voices, commonplace wisdom and dusty claustrophobia of the borough. Just as important, Flint captures the mundane yet mythic horror of the case that has memorialized it in the annals of New York City crime ... Flint is scrupulous about centering this moody thriller in the facts, yet giving them a deeper psychological spin. In a way that feels measured rather than salacious, Flint also manages to keep aloft the crucial question of 'Who murdered the children?' until the very last pages. As a novel inspired by tragic real-life events, Little Deaths is atmospheric and plausible.