The unlikable protagonist with a biting personality and outrageous actions, but who is fascinating at the same time, has never been more popular. Just think of "Gone Girl."
In her confident fiction debut, Elizabeth Little puts a fresh spin on this character in the form of Jane Jenkins, a young woman famous for being famous until she was sent to prison for the murder of her wealthy socialite mother. Little also makes "Dear Daughter" (Viking, $26.95, 384 pages) a parable about the cult of the celebrity stoked by a relentless press and a ruthless public's thirst for details of a woman it loves to hate.
As a teenager, Jane was a train wreck, constantly in the news for her out-of-control drinking and drugs, the complete opposite of her mother, Marion Elsinger, who was known for her philanthropy. Then at 17, Jane was sent to prison for her mother's brutal murder. The case against Jane was sketchy, and now, 10 years later, her conviction has been overturned because of mismanaged evidence. Jane, who has little memory of what happened, now has one goal: to find out if she killed her mother or if her mother's mysterious past led to her murder.
Scant clues lead Jane to the tiny, crumbling town of Adeline, South Dakota, and the adjacent community of Ardelle. Although she has dropped out of the public eye with a disguise and a new identity, Jane is vilified in news programs, gossip shows and by a nasty blogger who offers a reward for her location.
Little leads "Dear Daughter" through a realistic labyrinth as Jane's mission to find out about her mother's past uncovers some unsettling truths about herself. Little skillfully stays true to Jane's personality while allowing the character to grow emotionally and mature. Often rage-filled with little regard for others, Jane never becomes a sweet, appealing woman, but she is unfailingly interesting. Even when the reader begins to root for her, Jane remains prickly and caustic -- and always engrossing.