What essayist and short fiction writer Rose Andersen knows about her sister Sarah's death is this: "She died of an overdose in her bathroom. She was dead for four days before her body was found. Her dog spent those four days trying to claw and bite his way through the bathroom door.... The police thought she had accidentally OD'd." What Andersen believes began surfacing through rumors shortly after Sarah's death: the overdose wasn't accidental; Sarah was a "loose end" that required tying up.
In her poignant and distressing memoir, The Heart and Other Monsters, Andersen recounts her Herculean efforts to "resurrect" her sister via diaries, e-mail hacking, newspaper clippings, record reviews and raw reflection on a shared family history replete with suicide, betrayal, addiction and abuse. Their father was, among other detrimental things, emotionally abusive (calling Sarah "Piggy" and both girls "fat and lazy"), helping drive each to self-harm only Rose would overcome. Sarah "wanted a father, even if that father was a drunk or mean.... She wanted to be loved."
As Andersen relays their excruciating paths, parallel yet divergent, she begins to merge facts about violent men, murders and dismemberment in "Small Town," ultimately tangentially connecting them to her sister. Written as though there is blood and heroin in her pen, Andersen blames herself for not saving her sister from the "great shadowy monsters." The Heart and Other Monsters is a biography, cautionary tale and murder mystery, masterfully blended with a memoir burdened by grief and guilt for crimes committed by others. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review