A novelist and poet explores her role in a destructive relationship.
Jason looked like James Dean in Rebel without a Cause, writes former New Yorker staff member Stein (The Fallback Plan, 2012, etc.), and she fell hard. That’s when the trouble began. In this memoir of loss and yearning, the author chronicles how she had moved on to a successful writing career and a new romance when she learned of Jason’s death in a motorcycle accident. Along with the news came painful memories and unanswered questions. She wondered why their lives were “so inseparably intertwined” and why she “went back to him so many times when his behavior should have kept me way.” They were young and at loose ends, and she had fallen in love with his passion, rebellious nature, and adventurous spirit, ignoring her sense that something was wrong. The warning signs were there: his cruel teasing, deceptions, manipulation, put-downs, and unstable behavior. Her mother, a psychologist, called out Jason’s “ ‘game’ as manipulative and controlling, a way to put [the author] in her place.” Stein never knew who was going to show up: the “charming, hardworking” Jason or the “surprisingly, memorably cruel” Jason. When she agreed to move with him away from family and friends to Albuquerque, the “Land of Enchantment,” it was emblematic of their cinematic dream world: “We had matching leather jackets for when we rode through the desert, two silhouettes against the night.” But the dream faded out, and a quagmire of obsessive love, recklessness, betrayal, and abuse faded in. Stein lost herself in the “heavily medicated fog” of depression, but she eventually garnered strength and courage reading about strong, independent women—e.g., Georgia O’Keeffe—and found her way out through writing. Some of the narrative is disturbing, but the author’s artful writing and intense—occasionally overly intense—self-examination and willingness to expose her vulnerabilities hold sway.
Stein’s compelling, sincere voice emerges full strength from this illuminating, soul-searching story of an emotionally crippling romance.