Those small jabs at another person--bits of subtle spitefulness, dismissive looks, the ever-popular eye roll--can build to viciousness and flat-out hatred, as Irish author Liz Nugent ably shows in Little Cruelties. Nugent's third standalone novel chronicles the lives and relationships of the three Drumm brothers: William, Brian and Luke.
The story opens at one brother's funeral, attended by the two surviving Drumms. Who is in the coffin and what led to this brother's untimely death isn't revealed until the denouement. Little Cruelties smoothly unfolds in three sections, each unflinchingly narrated by a different brother, moving from their turbulent childhood to their frequent estrangements to their successes and failures in Irish entertainment.
Their personalities were sealed in their childhood; they were raised by a self-centered, careless mother, a minor showband singer in Dublin, who flaunted her infidelities and encouraged her sons' rivalry. Their meek, ineffectual father dies when they are teenagers, yet is never missed despite being their primary parent.
Little Cruelties skillfully focuses on character rather than plot, exploring the psychological underpinnings of film producer William, money manager Brian and pop star Luke. None is likable, but what drives each makes for a riveting tale.
Although Nugent employs little violence, Little Cruelties melds a hardboiled story with a family drama, leading to a tragedy that will define another generation. As she did in Unraveling Oliver and Lying in Wait, Nugent looks at the darkness that propels families' ruin. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer