Published February 1998
Narrated by Ruth Ann Phimister
For eighteen years, Fran Benedetto kept her secret. And hid her bruises. And stayed with Bobby because she wanted her son to have a father. And because, in spite of everything, she loved him. Then one night, when she saw the look on her ten-year-old son's face, Fran finally made a choice—and ran for both their lives.
Now she is starting over in a city far from home, far from Bobby. And in this place she uses a name that isn't hers, and cradles her son in her arms, and tries to forget. For the woman who now calls herself Beth, every day is a chance to heal, to put together the pieces of her shattered self. And every day she waits for Bobby to catch up to her. Because Bobby always said he would never let her go. And despite the flawlessness of her escape, Fran Benedetto is certain of one thing: It is only a matter of time.
A good book about spousal abuse should make the reader feel ill at ease. I suppose this book is a success in that I spent the entire book waiting for something terrible to happen. You might also expect it to be heartbreaking. I did but it wasn't.
Some of the reason has to do with "reading" this one on audio, particularly with the narrator. Phimister is a very competent reader but there was something very matter-of-fact about her approach to this story. Given that it's told from the first person point of view, I found her "voice" to be very cold and detached. But it's also very difficult to become emotionally invested when it's difficult to dwell on the details that make the story powerful. Here it's the details that show that while Fran's physical manifestations of abuse may have healed, emotionally she is still black and blue.
The other issue has to do with the way Quindlen chose to tell the story; nearly all of the abuse is relayed to the reader by Fran as she works to build a new life as Elizabeth Crenshaw. To her credit, this approach avoid the trap of being emotionally manipulative. And it may work better on paper; my friend Mari of MP: Living Reading Running tells me it does. Certainly Quindlen knows the subject of domestic abuse; she wrote about it extensively as a writer for The New York Times. I do believe it's a book that will keep me thinking and wondering how many women I know may be hiding a terrible secret.
On the outside I looked fine: the job, the house, the kid, the husband, the smile. Nobody got to see the hitting, which was really the humiliation, which turned into the hatred. Not just hating Bobby, but hating myself, too, the cringing self that was afraid to pick up the remote control from the coffee table in case it was just the thing that set him off...I stayed because I wanted my son to have a father and I wanted a home. For a long time I stayed because I loved Bobby Benedetto, because no one had ever gotten to me the way he did. I think he knew that. He made me his accomplice in what he did, and I made Robert mine. Until that last time, when I knew I had to go, when I knew that if I told my son I'd broken my nose, blacked my eyes, split my lip, by walking into the dining-room door in the dark, that I would have gone past some point of no return. The secret was killing the kid in him and the woman in me, what was left of er. I had to save him, and myself.