Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter is a spell binding psychological thriller. The suspense keeps ratcheting up as she throws curve ball after curve ball to the readers. At the heart of the story is the mother-daughter relationship and the hidden secrets. How well does someone know their parents?
Andrea (Andy) Cooper thought she knew her mild mannered mother. But that changes after a spree shooting in a mall restaurant where Andy and Laura are celebrating her 31st birthday. Laura shows a completely different side, a courageous woman willing to stand up to this killer to save her daughter. She dispassionately confronts the killer, first disarming him, and then knifing him with his own weapon, making it appear that she was somehow trained to kill. The police and media attention to Laura’s actions unleashes attention of a life-threatening sort. For nearly thirty years she’s been hiding from her previous identity, lying low in the hope that no one would ever find her. But now she’s been exposed, forcing Andy to go on the run, where she becomes determined to unravel the mystery of her mother’s past, in hopes of saving them both. In her quest, Andrea realizes that she only knows what her mother, Laura, chose to reveal.
Slaughter is one of those special authors that take readers on a journey with the characters. Throughout the novel the timely subjects of cancer, abuse, cults, injustice, obsession, and violence are explored. Those who have read her in the past know that Slaughter has set the bar high and with this intense story she does not disappoint.
Elise Cooper: This book has women issues?
Karin Slaughter: The last couple of books I have been writing about father-daughter relationships, but I thought to switch it up this time and write about the mother-daughter one. I wanted to contrast the choices women can make now versus the limited choices back in 1986, especially if someone grew up in a small town. Then, women could mainly be teachers or nurses, but not many could be doctors or lawyers.
EC: You also discuss millennials?
KS: They want to rise to the top. They have to realize they must start at the bottom before trying to run the entire company. I did enjoy playing with the generational differences of Laura and her daughter. The book is published overseas already and I can see the different generational reactions. The millennials are keyed in to Andy, where those in their late thirties or older gravitate toward Laura. Andy is someone that at her age of thirty-one is way too dependent on her parents. At a very early age it was made very clear to me that I had to find a job. In the beginning of the book she is like that guy we heard about on the news who is forty and still living at home.
EC: The “c” word, cancer is also a topic of this book?
KS: Laura had to deal with breast cancer. Every woman I am friendly with knows someone who had it. I know of four people. Once a family has someone who experienced some form of cancer it tends to bring them closer. My father had Prostate cancer and it changed our relationship, making it deeper. I think as the story unfolds Andy gains her strength by wanting to help her mom and become her advocate.
EC: How would you describe Andy?
KS: In the beginning of the book, she is not the typical type of character I write about. I tend to write those more like me, decisive and strong. I think she was stuck in a rut and floating along.
EC: How would you describe Laura?
KS: She is witty, smart, and resilient. I really liked her even though she is a pathological liar. She thinks that is justified because she is protecting her family and herself. As it says in the book, she is an octopus always reaching out, because she wants people to like and accept her. But she is more like a chameleon where people see her as someone they want to be friends with instead of someone willing to be indoctrinated.
EC: Interestingly you always seem to give the police shout outs, but in this book, one character never sees them as protectors?
KS: That character was an ex-con. They basically hate the police. My sister was in the criminal justice system for awhile. She has the same attitude. I guess that is because criminals want someone to blame since they never seem to assume responsibility.
EC: Although you did give a shout out with a book quote?
KS: I wrote the book quote, “cops are mostly decent human beings trying to do a really shitty job,” doing what a lot of us would not. They get very little respect because the news only talks about the bad cops not the men and women who show up to work every day to protect us. I remember years ago I worked with this woman in Chicago who always denounced the police. But after she got robbed she kept telling us to call them. In my Will Trent series, the police will always be the good guys, but if there is a bad cop they will be punished. I only know the police to be helpful and great.
EC: You explore cults?
KS: I have always been fascinated by cults. There are those who give away their autonomy. I thought of the Manson girls who followed him. They needed something that he was able to give them that no one else in their life was able to. Some people look for answers and turn to these perceived charismatic figures to solve their problems. Remember the 1980s was a violent time with all the cults, gangs, and the crack epidemic.
EC: I like how you explore self-defense versus murder regarding Laura’s actions?
KS: It is very subjective. How do you quantify that you did it because you are scared? Because everyone has cell phones and videos, there was something to look at and see how each were standing and what they were saying. I think the police and prosecutors have a lot of leeway on determining if someone should be charged. I also think public reaction plays a great influence. I wanted to talk about the idea of perception. Do we really know what is in Laura’s mind when she does that action? Did she do it out of self-preservation or anger? I think she would probably get the benefit of the doubt.
EC: The press also plays an influence?
KS: They sometimes jump to conclusions and do not wait for the facts to come out. We see psychologists on TV as pundits and experts talking about the killers’ mental state. How is that even possible considering they never spoke to them?
EC: The spree killing is the springboard for the book, not its main focus?
KS: I used the Agatha Christie way of doing it, where no one really cares about these bad guys who die. The school shooting in Texas impacted me. The press tried to show him as love sick, but what really is the definition of love? I saw him as spoiled and entitled. He stalked the girl for months and snapped after she embarrassed him in front of a crowd when she yelled for him to stop. Margaret Atwood said men are worried about women laughing at them and women are worried about men killing them. The spree killer in the book was an angry young man that lashed out at women.
EC: The book delves into the Patients’ Bill of Rights?
KS: In the 1980s after patients were released from mental institutions there was not always a place for them to go so they are out on the streets. My own grandfather was in the largest mental hospital in the country until the funding was cut. He was out on the streets. Here we had someone who needed to be hospitalized and wasn’t, but thankfully the VA took him. There has to be a solution, but no one tries to find it. No one is doing anything.
EC: Many children realize that they really do not know their parents?
KS: I think a lot about his. How many of us realize that our mom/dad had a life before us? No matter how old you are you do not want to realize your parents had this life and have secrets. For example, I had no idea my dad was an electrician. Sometimes we do not think to ask our parents about their life before we were born. Andy realizes that Laura had a secret life she knows nothing about, where her mother had a whole new backstory.
EC: You call one of your characters “Alabama?”
KS: Yes. Those that know me understand it is a little joke. I am an Auburn Tigers fan and have friends and family that are also fans. I still remember that guy that cut down the Auburn tree, and he never even went to that Alabama school. Unbelievable!
EC: Next projects?
KS: Will Trent and Sara Linton will be back in the next book that will literally start out with a bang. Bruna Papandrea’s company “Made Up Stories” has acquired the rights to develop a TV series of this book.