People in healthy marriages dismiss their spouses’ faults all the time. It’s okay that he forgets my birthday because he gets my car washed every month. She forgets to pay the bills but it’s because she’s so busy taking care of the kids. She’s never on time but she always stays late to help clean up. He doesn’t like my parents, but at least he makes an effort. It’s a normal part of a strong marriage.
And then there are the excuses made in unhealthy marriages. Justifications like, "she drinks too much but it’s okay because she never drives when she’s drinking." And, "he yells and screams and throws things, but he’s never actually hit me."
But sometimes the guy who forgets his wife’s birthday becomes the guy who throws a plate against the wall when she complains about it. And the wife who forgets to pay the bills because she’s so stressed turns to pills and alcohol to manage it. Where does that slippery slope start?
When we first meet Maddy, protagonist of Randy Susan Meyers’ Accidents of Marriage, she’s dreaming about what pill she can take to make her husband Ben’s nightly rages more palatable. With three children and a fulltime job as a social worker, Maddy is just as stressed out as Ben, who runs Boston’s public defender’s office. But Ben blames Maddy for anything that goes wrong at home, from their son cutting his foot on broken glass or Maddy forgetting to renew her car’s registration. His rages can be triggered by the smallest things, and often include throwing things against the wall and screaming at their seven-year-old daughter. And God help Maddy if she asks Ben for any help whatsoever with their children or her own needs.
Maddy should have gotten out a long time ago.
But she didn’t, which is why she has to call Ben when her car is towed because of the unpaid registration. It’s raining, and he’s already angry about having to drop off his kids at camp, and now this. On the highway, he’s tailgated by an SUV and lets road rage get the best of him. When the cars collide, Maddy – who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt as she was going through files in the back seat – is thrown from the car and suffers severe head trauma.
The question underlying the book is, when is it appropriate to say something when you think a friend or family member may be in danger? Or may be the danger? After the accident, Ben and Maddy’s friends and family are quick to blame Ben and his nasty temper for what happened. There’s a lot of talk about what should have been said or done. But no one thought it was their place, even Ben’s own parents, who’ve been trying to rein him in since he was a child.
Accidents of Marriage is told from three points of view – Ben’s, Maddy’s, and their 14-year-old daughter Emma’s, both before and after the accident. Before that day, Maddy had already recognized how Ben’s anger had shaped the lives of her and her children. She was lying to him and sneaking pills, and the kids were avoiding him or fawning all over him to keep his anger at bay. Ben’s point of view shows an incredibly self-centered, immature man, who believes he’s entitled to act on every emotion he has. And Emma is a typical 14-year-old, chafing at the bit of parental authority and already feeling burdened by too much responsibility for her younger siblings. Naturally, the accident changes everything. Ben, perhaps unrealistically, becomes consumed with guilt and stops yelling. Emma becomes even more burdened with child care and household chores, while her own needs are completely ignored. Although she’s only fourteen, Emma may be the character whom readers identify with the most. With all the responsibility for her siblings and no power to change her own life, her mother’s accident affects Emma the most, and it is Emma who eventually brings everything to a head.
The novel moves along at a breathless, “can’t put it down” pace for about three fourths of the book. My one quibble is the last quarter is relatively slow, and the story ends a few chapters before the book does.
Accidents of Marriage will resonate strongly with anyone who’s been the brunt of a loved one’s anger, and anyone who’s ever born witness to a friend exploding or being verbally abused. For a bystander, it’s painful. It’s embarrassing. We don’t know what to say, or if we should say anything. Thanks to Randy Susan Meyers, words are not necessary. The next time your friend’s husband interrupts your coffee date to scream at her for not doing his laundry, hand her a copy of this book.
Thanks to Meryl L. Moss Media Relations for the book in exchange for an honest review.
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