So, I had a chance to read A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick over the holidays. It was funny: I knew I had put it on my list of books to read for a compelling reason. I just for the life of me could not think what that reason was. But the book magically showed up in my house and even though I couldn’t quite remember why I was supposed to read it, I knew I was, so I did. Anyway, imagine my surprise when I got on here this morning to post on something completely different and saw A Reliable Wife in the list of my very own recent posts? I have a mind like a steel sieve, folks. And then I remembered that the brilliant Anne Westrick wrote me a wonderful review of the book which I posted here not that long back.
Anyway, I read the book and it is wonderful. Dark and chilling and full of real characters with painful pasts. Physical and Emotional abuse, neglect, the usual (for this blog, at least . . .) But what I really loved about this book, which wasn’t written for teens, that I think we could use a great deal more of in YA literature, was how it showed the characters moving through their darkness to growth, or not, but either way in a realistic way. The only book for teens that I can really think of off the top of my head that does this is Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan.
I know I’ve said this before. Particularly in my post about what kinds of books rape survivors need. But I think young adults who are moving in the world need to see narratives that show not just abuse and pain that echoes their own, a not just shows them “overcoming” whatever has happened to them, but shows just life afterwards. Because a girl who is rapes doesn’t just go to therapy and get over it. There is life afterwards and it’s not the same.
SPOILER ALERT: In Tender Morsels the main character, Liga, shuts herself and her daughters away in a fantasy land for their entire childhoods because she can’t deal with what has been done to her. But this amounts to profound neglect for the daughters. And they go on to live interesting and complicated lives as a result. It’s a story about characters and relationships–the things that adversity tends to affect the most in the long-term.
Likewise, A Reliable Wife shows three characters who have all been hurt in deep and various ways and it shows how they relate long after the abuse has been perpetrated. It’s a hard book to read in some ways, as Anne says, but important. And I think it’s something we desperately need to see more of in the cannon for teens. Heck, maybe even for younger kids. We try to sugarcoat things for children because we don’t want to show them the dark things like death and violence that we, as the gatekeepers, don’t think they’re ready for, but it seems to me like no one takes into account the kids for whom darkness is their daily reality. Don’t they deserve narratives that accurately describe their reality, as well? Don’t they, in fact, need stories to help them make sense of their world even more than the children who lie safe in their beds every night while their parents tuck them in and read them bedtime stories?
Anyway, this is a larger question that I’m going to take up in my next post, so I’ll bid you adieu for now.