Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Book Review: The Week I Ruined My Life

By Jami Deise

I read Caroline Grace-Cassidy’s novel The Week I Ruined My Life the same week the allegations against Harvey Weinstein surfaced. As woman after woman—some much more famous than the movie mogul-- went public with horrific tales of harassment, assault, and even rape, I dug through Grace-Cassidy’s book thinking about all the forces that keep women quiet and apologetic. When even someone as powerful as Angelina Jolie lets Weinstein get away with his abuse, it’s clear that the cultural expectation for women is to put up and shut up.

This leads me to The Week I Ruined My Life, the sixth book by Irish writer and actress Caroline Grace-Cassidy. While the book was well-written, I found it painful to read because of how much the protagonist, Ali Devlin, beats herself up. She’s trapped in an emotionally abusive marriage, blaming herself for her husband Colin’s temper tantrums. Even the title tips off the reader about who’s responsible.

Irish denizens Ali and Colin were high school sweethearts who married young. He wanted a stay-at-home wife and mother, and she agreed. But now, years later with a pre-teen daughter and pre-school-aged son, Ali has found a job she loves in the world of art and social services. Colin, who runs an environmentally conscious greeting card company, refuses to lift a hand to help her with the children or the house. But he’s quick to criticize how she washes dishes and vacuums the floors. Colin is openly contemptuous, calling her a bitch in front of their children and prioritizing Manchester United games before the family. He’s just as cruel to Ali’s single best friend, Corina, who urges Ali to do whatever she can to make her husband happy.

But Ali is distracted by a co-worker, artist Owen, who knows all about Ali’s marital nightmare. Rather than helping Ali see how dangerous her situation is, Owen emphasizes their mutual attraction. When a business trip comes up, Ali may be forced to choose between her work life and family life.

Without giving away any spoilers, I will reveal that Ali seems to completely buy in to the belief that a wife is responsible for her husband’s anger and actions in a marriage. And there’s no one in the book who’ll tell her otherwise. It’s not so difficult to see a connection between Ali’s situation and the women who are told that abuse, harassment, and even rape are their fault because of what they were wearing or drinking or talking to. This attitude is so pervasive that even in a women’s fiction novel—a genre that is supposed to celebrate strong women—there is not a single character who labels Colin’s behavior for what it is; there is no one who sees Owen as the manipulator he is. And while I’ve never been to Ireland, as I read the novel, I wondered if this attitude toward women is even more prevalent in that notoriously Catholic country than it is in the United States.

This review is not meant to discourage anyone from reading the book. Rather, I found it educational. It’s an education for those of us who still might question why a woman keeps her mouth shut when dealing with a Harvey Weinstein. It’s an education for any woman who wonders why her friend blames herself when her husband cheats on her. It’s an education about a society that expects women to keep men in check and blames them when they don’t. In a way, The Week I Ruined My Life reminded me a bit of Randy Susan Meyers’s book Accidents of Marriage, both featuring wives who don’t take their husbands’ anger seriously enough. And while emotional abuse doesn’t always lead to physical abuse, the recent plethora of white male mass shooters in the U.S. all had one specific thing in common—a history of domestic violence.

Thanks to Trafalgar Square Publishing for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Caroline Grace-Cassidy:

1 comment:

Laurie I said...

Thanks for your review. Very insightful.