I went into “Little Darlings” knowing it was a supernatural thriller inspired by Grimm’s fairy tales, but I didn’t realize I’d experience such textured prose. Golding’s ability to spin a story with language is beyond skillful. She’s downright gifted. She pulls you in. Well, actually, she kind of grips you, her text’s curling tendrils clamping down and jerking you inside. The wince-worthy details, the evocative descriptors, the elegant way she describes some of the most gory moments of bodily harm due to childbirth, all of it feeds your imagination. Her writing calls to mind Neil Gaiman’s. There’s a layering to the work of both writers that makes the reader feel as if she sinks into their stories, like feet in quicksand or hands into mud.
Here, Golding sets the stage for a psychological thriller that has you questioning her main character’s delusions. Are they delusions? Is she reliable? She’s sleep-deprived, literally drained of her sustenance, and her husband’s behavior toward her may be categorized as abusive. After delivering her twin boys, she’s kind of abandoned, at least mentally. It’s no wonder she experiences what she does. Golding does such a valid job of making insanity plausible. If anything, this story is a cautionary tale for pregnancy — not motherhood. It’s the trauma of delivery that leaves the scars.
But — and this is what has me feeling disappointed — the mystery is never really resolved. The reader is asked to take imaginative leaps and essentially fill in the missing bits. Or the reader is left to decide on her own what she thinks happened. This is where the story comes off as lazy for me. It’s built up in such a masterful way, and yet by the end you realize not much happens. The puzzling aspects aren’t all that mysterious because they are either real and you’re asked to accept the implausible. Or they are the results of a mental breakdown. Either way, the finale is unsatisfying. There isn’t even a moral at the end, which is essentially wanted, not that this is a fairy tale, but it borrows heavily and modernizes. So we don’t come away having learned anything. I actually feel like the story is left unfinished, which may be because we ended up in a corner we couldn’t get out of, narratively speaking. The MC is crazy. The MC isn’t crazy. We either live in a world where impossible things happen or we don’t. Neither of these offer reasonable closure. Even the detective character, who’s the pragmatist and the one to follow hard facts, isn’t sure in the end. She must be just as unsatisfied, though the tidy wrap-up of her storyline wouldn’t suggest so.
I definitely recommend this read for those who love well-written thrillers to sink the teeth into. Just beware curiosity is sparked but may never be satisfied.