Lullabies for Little Criminals, Heather O’Neill
Harper Perennial, 330 pages
Life for Baby was never boring. Right before she was about to turn twelve, her father Jules flew into a panic because somebody from out of town was coming to pick up his guitars. Jules didn’t have the guitars anymore; he had sold them, presumably so he could buy some heroin, and this guy from Oshawa would likely break his legs. So Jules did the only thing that made any sense. He and Baby grabbed a few things from their damp, musty apartment and ran into the streets of Montreal. By now, this was getting to be normal life for Baby. This is what happens when you have no mother and your father is a drug addict who is just fifteen years older than you are.
Jules loves his daughter but lacks the capacity to take care of her. He leaves her alone frequently for extended periods, he brings untrustworthy people to the house, and as his heroin addiction worsens, he becomes increasingly hostile. Lullabies for Little Criminals follows Baby over the next two years as she learns to navigate her world on her own. Driven by a need for belonging, Baby accepts friendship wherever offered, but in the red light district of Montreal, offers of friendship are not always what they seem.
The genius of Lullabies for Little Criminals lies in its ability to portray lower-class Montreal as a place of magical wonder for Baby while making the reader painfully aware of all its dangers. Written by an author who shows obvious affection for the Dickensian surroundings, this novel is more hopeful than despondent and will appeal to readers who enjoy the writing of Miriam Toews and Marina Endicott.