An Intricate, deeply felt, beautifully written novel. The storyline of the book is, women are getting murdered on the streets of Los Angles and many of these women are sex workers. The story moves through the lives of five women characters with overlapping and interweaving histories. Each Character does help in moving the plot ahead with a self-narration of there own pain and tragedy.
These Women is set in 2014 in West Adams, a Los Angeles neighborhood divided by a freeway, characterized by an economic patchwork of upscale residences and strip malls, where, amid the lingering evidence of the 1992 riots, historic mansions have been repurposed into boardinghouses.
A killer is being dormant for 15 years, who had already murdered 13 women earlier — primarily sex workers of color — decides torenew his attacks, taking four more victims over the course of 18 months, dumping their bodies in alleyways with their throats cut and bags over their heads.
The story is happening in between six female characters, all of whom are connected in some way to the killer: Dorian, whose daughter Lecia was the last girl murdered during the 1999 killing spree; Feelia, the only woman to survive her attack; Julianna, a stripper very similar in appearance to her former babysitter Lecia; Julianna’s next-door neighbor Marella, an artist whose subject is “the destruction of the female body”; Marella’s mother Anneke, a rigid and overprotective elder care nurse; and Essie, a detective reassigned from Homicide to Vice after an off-duty incident resulted in the deaths of two young girls.
Pochoda’s focus is on these women’s individual experiences and how they navigate through dangers of being a woman in the world. Although the killer makes an appearance in each woman’s story, he’s a background figure, a predatory Where’s Waldo on the periphery of their lives.
Essie is the first to understand that not only are the recent murders the work of a single perpetrator, but that they are connected to the 1999 killings however her colleagues ignore her findings.
The killings in 1999 cases remained unsolved, largely due to not pursued leads and a lack of motivation by the police. Witnesses, frequently of the same profession as the victims, were deemed unreliable.The press and the police classify the victims broadly as prostitutes, failing to account for the range of services provided by sex workers.
Here, women are not exempt from male scrutiny even when they’re not working, even if they’re not working girls. They are assessed, commodified, objectified by men, whether they encourage it or not. One woman observes men “appraising her like she’s a test car at an auto show.”
The novel crawls with the dangers women face. The mother of a murdered girl warns, “This is a violent world, and to expect it won’t touch you is madness.” The presence of violence — or the threat of violence — in female lives is a recurring theme; memorials to dead women are scattered around the city and a single page contains references to “a young woman who died on the overpass or below on the freeway” and a bartender shot by her ex-boyfriend from the doorway of the bar where she worked. Women are murdered, beaten, stalked, made aware of their own vulnerability as they make their way through the city. At some point in this book, every female character, with the exception of Essie, feels like they are being followed, watched, targeted. Some of them are right.
Essie explains the at-risk population across the strata of the sex trade, noting that victims “are linked more closely by location than occupation.” Pochoda expands it even further, blurring the lines between these women, casualties of the life, and, simply, women: a killer of prostitutes murders a babysitter, strippers mingle with USC sorority girls at South Central house parties, and, as Feelia notes, “it’s not like I’m the only lady out on Western in heels, short skirt, top cut down to there. There’s me and there’s them like me and there’s all the others who dress just the same because that’s how they dress.”
In a brief exchange that perfectly summarizes the novel’s primary purpose, Essie brushes aside Dorian’s insistence that her daughter was not a sex worker as unimportant, interpreting her denial as the emotional response of a distraught mother. “What matters is who killed her, not who she was,” she tells Dorian. Dorian replies, “Both of those things matter.”
In the Novel Pochoda restores their humanity, giving these women identities beyond their relationship to the killer, like a crime fiction Bechdel. As mentioned earlier the novel’s least sympathetic character — claims, “it doesn’t matter how you lived, only how you died,” Pochoda’s argument is that what matters isn’t how women die, but that they lived.