In this debut memoir, an unnamed woman battles cancer while navigating an abusive relationship.
Chastain’s tale weaves back and forth through time, emotion and her protagonist’s life with her moody, charming and explosive husband. The most surprising thing about the man who dominates the narrator’s thoughts—who’s loving one moment, violent and inscrutable the next—is how little her cancer diagnosis influences his behavior. At one point, she asks her husband, “I wonder how you would have felt if someone you really loved had gotten cancer?”—one of the many hard-hitting emotional moments that punctuate the winding story. Through a blend of literary devices, in competent, artistic prose, Chastain vividly portrays her character’s self-doubt and bravery, as well as the unpredictable world in which she lives. The presence of the domestic—houses, baseball, clothes—alongside the metaphysical realities of illness, violence and love creates an engaging tension that will likely grip readers’ hearts and imaginations. The author’s decision not to name her main characters is intriguing but somewhat confusing, especially when she later names her characters’ mysteriously absent sons and family. Readers see into the characters’ hearts, but never learn enough real-world details to know much about them; similarly, while the narrator’s experience is certainly realistic, she and her husband lack a clear, satisfying character arc, and the end comes too suddenly and neatly. Despite this, Chastain’s searing and emotional look at intimate-partner violence is often heartbreaking, riveting and terrifying. Readers will likely find themselves rooting for the protagonist to leave her husband one minute and hoping she stays with him the next—embodying the tension felt by the characters in this thoughtful work.
A heartfelt, unflinchingly honest account of a complex relationship.