In her debut memoir, Lee painstakingly re-creates her experiences of domestic violence and charts her journey toward self-assurance.
In one of the author’s earliest memories, she recalls her nonreligious father bringing a gun to a Tuesday night Jehovah’s Witness church service and waving it around, as she and her religious mother sat in a pew. She says that her mother talked him down, as she so often did during his verbal and physical abuse, but it foreshadowed events to come. After spending time in a mental hospital, she says, her father shot an older man dead in a car near their home—an event that Lee witnessed. Although he coached her to say that she’d seen nothing, he was eventually arrested, found guilty, and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Later, she says, her high school boyfriend pressured her into sex and then marriage. She temporarily left college to run his grocery store, but when his bullying turned physical and he broke her ribs, she left him. Divorced at 23, she stumbled into an abusive relationship with a man who broke her jaw during a drunken blackout, she says; even so, she stayed with him for six years. Lee’s vivid recall of decades-past events is impressive. Along the way, she effectively interjects psychological insights that she’s gained about various people’s motives. Only with hindsight, for example, has she understood that she repeated her mother’s behavior and internalized blame for bad situations in her life: “My self-worth was nearly nonexistent,” she notes. Her use of the present tense for accounts of her memories allows readers to be there in the moment, experiencing her fear and feeling compassion for her. Later, she insists that the cycle of violence only ends when one admits it: “to stop seeing yourself as a victim of abuse, you must stop denying that the abuse occurred.” A late section, regarding a feud with a neighbor and her own decision to drop the legal battle against the man who broke her jaw, is overlong, but it emphasizes the value of abandoning one’s desire for revenge.
An astute investigation into repeated patterns of abuse and victimhood.