A debut memoir recalls Carlson’s experiences in a Texas women’s shelter.
Convinced her estranged husband, Nathan, was plotting to kill her to avoid paying alimony, Carlson was hesitant to take refuge at her best friend’s house for fear he would track her down. She decided to seek temporary accommodation in a women’s shelter and quickly learned her first lesson: most shelters were filled to capacity. She finally found a bed—with a pee-stained mattress—in Stonedale, Texas. Along with heinous décor, gross bathrooms, and an adored smoking porch, the shelter offered a memorable group of fellow residents, including drug addicts, prostitutes, strippers, and a German woman claiming to be in the witness protection program. With characteristic optimism and cheer, Carlson joked that the shelter would be like a pajama party, and she managed to make it so. Although she believed that she made lifelong friends at the shelter, she was quickly disillusioned—as the women gradually returned to the real world, they reverted to their former ways. On her own again, Carlson built a new life in a transitional apartment. Carlson’s book, while engaging and frequently amusing, also exudes snobbishness in recounting her compelling story. She repeatedly complains that all the women were grouped together, as if she deserved better accommodations because she arrived by Mercedes. It is also difficult to reconcile her quick affection for and connections with her fellow residents with the fact that she surrendered custody of her daughter to her husband; her reasons seem convincing, but she does not express much remorse. Carlson reveals her gift for characterization as the women she describes come to life in her sometimes-disturbing account. Generally well-written, the memoir contains a few distracting (although consistent) spelling errors, such as her frequent description of the shelter as a “weigh station” for women. Despite her disillusionment with her friends’ desertion (or perhaps because of it), Carlson began a second career helping abused women.
An alternately hilarious and chilling behind-the-scenes glimpse of life in a shelter for victims of domestic violence.