From popular novelist Fowler (Remembering Blue, 2000, etc.), a searing and finely crafted memoir of youth and adulthood stunted by abuse.
The author’s great achievement is to demonstrate convincingly how intelligent and accomplished women can become trapped in destructive situations that seem inescapable. In her case, Fowler admits, a tender heart as well as emotional vulnerabilities made her susceptible to abuse. She loved her parents, who had endured tough times and been beaten as children themselves: how could she blame her father for drinking too much and beating her mother? Then, when he suddenly died, Mama “with not a clue how to manage . . . plunged deeper into the family tradition: mean bitterness fueled by alcohol.” Teased unmercifully about her buckteeth, Connie was sure she was ugly and an easy mark for the abusive man who later told her she was stupid as well. She begins her story with that unnamed man, an aging, alcoholic former newscaster she’s living with in Tampa, Florida, in 1984. He’s promised to help the 26-year-old college graduate become a writer, but in truth he himself is washed up professionally. Their relationship is platonic—he claims to have testicular cancer—but he frequently goes off with other women; she pays his bills, cooks and cleans, and endures his brutal physical attacks. She acquires a dog, Katie, whose love is an abiding comfort, begins a promising writing job on a local magazine, and falls in love with coworker Mika Fowler, an unhappily married photographer. But, even when her abuser steals the money she’d saved to fix her teeth, it takes a while before she has the courage and conviction to leave.
Insightful, generous, and perfectly pitched: a good nonfiction companion to Before Women Had Wings (1996), Fowler’s novel covering similar territory.