A woman searches for happiness despite lifelong, life-threatening abuse in this debut memoir.
Brettell and her sister, Debbie, lived with their mother following their parents’ divorce in the late 1950s. Not long after, their mother remarried, and according to the author, the girls’ new stepfather proved to be a violent man. He invented reasons to beat the girls, she says, and sexually assaulted Debbie; her mother took her to the hospital to ensure that she wasn’t pregnant. Despite the abuse, the girls’ mother stood by her husband’s decisions and allowed his tyranny to run the house, Brettell says. By the time the author entered high school, her guidance counselor there had learned about Brettell’s treatment at home, and arranged for her to graduate early. After graduation, the sisters roomed together, struggled to find work, and questioned whether they were intelligent enough to attend college. Brettell found herself thrust into marriage with a cowboy who eventually gave her a life on a ranch, which satisfied her love of animals. However, he also developed a love of firearms and exhibited violent, strange behavior, she says, even when he was in the presence of their two young children. Eventually, the author saved enough money to divorce her husband and became an accountant to support her small family. At 34, she met the man who would become her second husband at a church dance; he was persistent and possessive in his courtship, she says, though unloving in demeanor. Overall, Brettell demonstrates a cinematic command of her story. She intersperses chapters about past events with segments relating therapy sessions. These sessions create a rhythm within the memoir and serve to point readers to the various ways in which Brettell’s past and initial abuse enabled a later, violent, near-death experience. The author relates painful events, but often does so in an optimistic, encouraging tone. She understands hard work and adaptability, and readers witness how frequently she’s willed her life to move forward—in her career, her education, and her love life. This isn’t a victim’s tale; rather, it’s a guide to survival.
A refreshing autobiography from a spirited woman.