An intense, sometimes-brutal novel about acknowledging and escaping an abusive relationship.

THE OTHER CHEEK

BOY MEETS GIRL. GIRL BEATS BOY. JUST YOUR TYPICAL LOVE STORY...

In Danbury’s debut novel, a marriage begins to crumble under the stress of abuse and mental illness.

Rich Bryson is a freelance cameraman working in television production. He has steady work, and he’s excited to be marrying Tami Matthews, a beautiful aspiring actress who can also sing and dance: “It was just a matter of time before it was her turn to shine,” she thinks to herself. Early on, Tami shows signs of an alarming temper, as when she gets a parking ticket and loudly curses the entire city of Anaheim, California. After a wedding that Tami has carefully orchestrated—but which still fails to satisfy her wish for perfection—she and Rich settle into their new life as a married couple. Soon, Tami begins flying into rages and taking it out on her husband—hitting him and pulling out chunks of his hair. When she discovers that her sibling is pursuing acting, she hits a new level of fury, screaming, “I hate my brother!” As a result, the abuse escalates, and Rich starts to fear his wife. The physical and psychological tolls then start to interfere with his work. Meanwhile, Tami’s mental health seems to be eroding: She starts talking to herself, repeating the phrase, “It doesn’t go with that”; she hears voices and grins maniacally; and her words and actions become stranger and more alarming. Rich gets help from his siblings, who formulate a plan to save him from Tami, but she has no plans to make it easy for him to leave. The novel’s short chapters move quickly, wasting little time on the relationship’s halcyon days. When moments of abuse occasionally give way to intimate moments of reconnection, Danbury shows how the protagonist rekindles his hope for a loving relationship: “Rich never knew what to expect anymore.” The author has a good sense of pace and tension, which he ratchets up during scenes of domestic cruelty. He also has a knack for rendering vivid action. But when the prose gets more figurative, it struggles to maintain the same clarity. For instance, when Rich and Tami return from an idyllic anniversary weekend, a tragic discovery exacerbates Tami’s fragile mental state: “Instantaneously, a glacial chunk of her remaining sanity had cleaved away and was ripped to smithereens, and what was left of her fragile world crumpled like a house of cards in a hurricane.” The general aim is apparent here, but the metaphors are too mixed to mean very much. Tami initially seems like an unlikely abuser, but her behavior becomes far less surprising as Danbury shows the extent of her mental illness. It’s not always clear what her disorder is, however; she shows signs of narcissism, obsessive-compulsive behavior, and mania. The author never makes Tami a sympathetic character, but the evidence that she’s unwell saves her from seeming cartoonishly villainous. One highlight of the book is the soundtrack: Numerous mentions of songs pepper the novel, sometimes reflecting and sometimes belying the feelings of the characters.

An intense, sometimes-brutal novel about acknowledging and escaping an abusive relationship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73334-400-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: JEFE PRESS

Review Posted Online: Jan. 31, 2020

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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