A religious wife, mother and artist confronts her childhood sexual abuse that she has repressed, and by doing so improves her relationship with her entire family. Mallory Carlisle is an artist who works at home and is the primary caregiver of two daughters, while her husband, Jake travels extensively in his career as a photographer. It is a system that had worked well for several years until she begins to experience bewildering physical and emotional reactions to common occurrences and she is making choices that she knows are inappropriate, but does them anyway.
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Those choices include lying to her husband and her family, spending money they do not have and borrowing from her brother, Geoff in order to hide the truth from her husband. The stress of her problem and her inability to verbalize it results in her husband moving out and pain in her hands that has no physical basis. She has also observed that she is more likely to become angry with her loved ones with little provocation and her marriage begins to crack under the pressure.
The most frightening problem at all may be that she is not always aware of what she is doing and does not always plan for it to have occurred. Examples include overwhelming fear that she experiences if she is not always aware of where her children are and eventually she has a dissociative reaction after hearing of a nearby child who was similarly abused. The severity of that episode and the support of the women who were with her at the bible study class at the time convinces her to seek therapy.
While in therapy, she begins to remember some of the abuse and recognizes that it was her brother, Eric who assaulted her over a period of time and the reader is also informed of a fourth child in their family, who died at a young age. Her death was an accident and unrelated to the abuse, but her life and death were rarely discussed, so even at a young age Mallory learned that to repress and never discuss traumatic events. Unfortunately, this extends to her abuse and the sporadic pain in her hands is explained as a way that her body remembered the pain from being tied up as a child, when her mind was unable to.
She confronts Eric, whose son is currently in a juvenile detention facility facing sexual abuse charges as well. His reaction is to deny them and then to say that it was so long ago that it should not be a problem. She is also forced to deal with the fact that he groomed her for the abuse for some time, so that eventually she consented to the abuse and therefore feels complacent in the abuse. Her therapy includes her husband and also provides an illuminating look into her mind, in that she was extremely close with her other brother Geoff, which allowed her husband to feel excluded frequently.
As her emotional health improves, despite negative reactions from much of her family, her marriage improves. There is a marked difference in her reactions and she sells off many of her treasured items in order to pay off the debt that she accrued for unneeded items. Eventually, she becomes a healthy, normal woman who is able to deal with her issues in a mature manner. This includes having a normal relationship with her husband after he returns to their home and dealing with her parents, who would have preferred ignoring the problem, in an adult manner.
Best part of story, including ending:
Although there is a strong religious message in this novel, it covers a very sensitive and unfortunately common problem in a dignified way. Therapy and communication play as big a role in her recovery as her religious beliefs.
Best scene in story:
Approximately 2/3 through the book, after Geoff learns that their brother was the abuser and holds him responsible for the death of their younger sister, he has a very human reaction. Specifically, he goes to Eric's home and beats him very badly, threatening to kill him. It was an unexpected, but understandable, reaction and was surprising in a novel with such a strong religious message. Violence is not the answer, but it made his character more relateable.
Opinion about the main character:
I liked the fact that Mallory Carlisle has managed to live a normal life for many years, despite the childhood abuse that she repressed. I believe that is very representational of many victims and that there are not enough novels that manage to portray that in a believable manner. Eventually, trauma emerges and it is often prompted by an outward event, but sexual abuse does not automatically present health romantic relationships for the abuse survivor. Abuse can happen in any family, regardless of their income or educational levels or their religious beliefs.