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These Women


These Women

In her thoughtful, carefully wrought novels, Ivy Pochoda seems to have taken on the task of granting attention and dignity to the lives of people whose existence is often glossed over or outright ignored, both in fiction and in life. She continues this project in her fourth book, THESE WOMEN, which centers on the brutal murders of women --- many of them prostitutes --- in a particularly rundown area of South Central Los Angeles.
The novel’s main narrative is set in 2014, as a restaurant cook named Dorian continues to grieve the loss of her daughter Lecia, who was the latest --- and seemingly the last --- in a string of killings that plagued the neighborhood 15 years earlier. Lecia’s murder didn’t fit the pattern of the other deaths, and Dorian wonders if that fact managed to break the chain somehow. But she’s also mystified by the dead birds that someone continues to leave at her doorstep, and she’s convinced that they’re related to Lecia’s death.

"The mystery in THESE WOMEN unfolds gradually and satisfyingly, rewarding careful readers with clues and relying on coincidences that feel convincing, never forced."

When Dorian brings a box of dead birds to the police, she happens to cross paths with a young woman named Julianna (stage name Jujubee), who was just a young girl when Lecia babysat her all those years ago. Now Julianna is a stripper and, more importantly, an aspiring photographer who loves to compose photos of her bleak surroundings and her coworkers and acquaintances who navigate the margins of society. She seems to have a real talent for it, but she can’t really devote herself to anything when her life has become an endless cycle of drug use and prostitution to support her habit.
Without giving too much away, it soon becomes apparent to everyone that the same serial killer who terrorized the neighborhood all those years ago is back, appearing to target the same vulnerable women. This time, however, the women have been watching one another as well, and the clues come together in surprising ways.
In the course of the novel, Pochoda offers glimpses into the lives of nearly a half dozen of “these women,” shedding light on the common threads that unite the experiences of women as seemingly diverse as a performance artist, a stripper and a cop investigating a series of homicides. All of them have been discounted or discredited by men, while they have lived their lives accustomed to being viewed by men as objects --- of desire, pity or scorn. “One day you’re fine and fierce and still able to pretend you’re in control,” Julianna considers as her life begins to fall apart, “that men want you because they want you, not because anything can be had at a price.”
The mystery in THESE WOMEN unfolds gradually and satisfyingly, rewarding careful readers with clues and relying on coincidences that feel convincing, never forced. The novel’s haunting conclusion --- linked to a real-life disaster that struck the neighborhood in 2014 --- will remain with readers for a long time. But even more than the suspense plot, what will stick with them are the fully realized characters Pochoda crafts, giving dignity and voice to those too often discounted.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 22, 2020

These Women
by Ivy Pochoda