I hadn’t read anything by Scott Bradfield before or even heard of him, although I read in a review that he is considered a star in the literary world by his peers. That, of course, made me feel ignorant.
The first thing that struck me about Good Girl Wants It Bad was its cover – alluring; sexy, a hint of what lies within. Within, we meet Delilah Riordan (called Lah) who is in the West Texas Women’s Penitentiary on death row. Lah is a nymphomaniac who has been charged with murder and torture in Connecticut, California, New York, Idaho and Texas, as well as a few European countries. She is a serial killer who is gorgeous – ‘hotter than Texas asphalt’ – apparently irresistible to men, which lands many them in all sorts of trouble (and a nasty death).
We meet Lah through her daily journal as she counts down to her execution. She is not a nasty, rebellious multiple murderer; Lah is cheerful, naive and dutiful in prison. She writes, “I want to express my basic good nature as a human being, which has been overlooked by all the press reports I’ve read.” Armed with the knowledge of her innocence, she attends Rehab Chat sessions with Dr Reginald and Confrontational Analysis with Dr Alexander; through these sessions we, as readers, are exposed to the horrors of the crimes she allegedly committed.
Bradfield has created an intriguing character in Lah. She is complex, self-delusional, psychotic, uses her body to her advantage, and humourous. She is also a desperately sad woman, with a history of sexual abuse, who gives birth in prison and has her daughter taken away from her. “Never give up, little daffodil, Mommy loves you very much,” she writes, haunted by the fact that her daughter is somewhat out there and will learn down the line that her mother was a serial murderer. Lah has a boyfriend, Manuel, (you need to decide whether he is imaginary or not), and often writes about, “my Little Secret” who she believes will help her escape from prison. She adores her father, who is in a coma in hospital, and only sees his ‘love’ for her when she was little as totally normal.
“You can’t be a good girl unless you have the choice to be a bad girl, as Daddy used to say. And vice versa.”
‘Fans’ from the public writes to Lah (isn’t it strange how people are drawn to prisoners on Death Row?). She receives a series of them from Oliver, a boy in sixth grade, who would like help with his Social Studies project, but who also finds her very beautiful and requests photos from her. The correspondence between them continues until Oliver’s father sends an irate letter to Lah, freaked out by her behaviour. Rhonda Merrivale writes to her asking for “information on your severe personality disorders”, as she finds herself having fantasies of killing her husband and oldest child and wants to know if these are normal.
Bradfield maintains Lah’s voice well throughout, and never gives us too much detail about the murders. I experienced a few misgivings about Lah – I found it unbelievable that she was so hot that no man could resist her. Her naivety and self-delusion were overplayed in places, although I supposed it is psychologically possible for someone to be so cut off from reality. However, the count down to her execution works well as a narrative device and a sense of urgency builds as Lah writes a last letter to her daughter, hours before she has to walk down Death Row.
All in all, though, I enjoyed the book as it was so unlike anything I’ve read in a long time. It was sad, poignant and funny; not what I would have expected from a novel about a prisoner on Death Row.