In this debut novel, a 40-year-old woman must reevaluate her personal beliefs, dreams, and aspirations when years of domestic verbal and psychological abuse escalate into physical violence.
Author Payne spent many years working as an advocate for battered and abused women. She’s woven that experience into this genre-bending novel about the choices and conflicts faced by the fictional Pinch O’Malley. Readers first meet Pinch the morning after her husband, Steven, has beaten her. Studying the bruises on her face, the full-time homemaker and mother decides that she must begin to reclaim her life—albeit secretly, in order to avoid her husband’s wrath. She answers an ad looking for part-time help as a freelance editor, and embarks on a personal journey that defines the remainder of the novel. In an intriguing twist, the author peoples this otherwise serious volume with a cast of quirky, sometimes-bizarre characters; the most extreme is septuagenarian Lydia Wright, an eccentric former photojournalist who hires Pinch to organize her journals for a memoir she’s writing. The crusty, crass Lydia—who may have once “accidentally” shot her husband in the foot to keep him from returning to battle in Vietnam—keeps challenging Pinch to find the strength to extricate herself from her increasingly unstable environment. Overall, this novel tells an essentially moving story. However, with the exception of Pinch, her daughter, Katie, and her brother, Kevin, the character portrayals are exaggerated to the point of farce. Some sections read like quirky revenge fantasy, such as when Lydia places catnip in Steven’s hat, and he’s set upon by felines. This narrative strategy occasionally works as welcome comic relief, but it also compromises believability. Readers are pulled back and forth between theatricality and chilling encounters with Steven, who himself becomes more bizarre as the story progresses. However, the plot’s resolution is ultimately satisfying.
A promising first novel that offers a lighter-than-usual take on a deadly serious subject.