My Life as a Doormat by Rene Gutteridge

It was a hard thing to shake. Edward thought I needed help with conflict. This was just another sign that this relationship was not what it should be.

Leah Townsend, a playwright and the protagonist of the novel, is right, but not for the reasons she thinks. Her boyfriend (gaslighter!), Edward, is also right, but not for the reasons he thinks.

I learned about this book because of the TV movie it was based on (incidentally, in retrospect, Holly Marie Combs did an amazing job portaying Lea) and read it afterwards. It’s a layered, psychologically insightful novel in which the experiences and feelings of the main heroine are sometime so relatable, so visceral in their descriptions that I had to lay the book aside to process. It’s also scary to realize how there will always be plenty of people ready to pounce on you as soon as you become that thing, a doormat.

Leah is a woman who has everything in her to be who she wants to be. In fact, she might already be that woman, only she got lost along the way due to ever-deepening habits of not wanting to disappoint people and destructive contributions from her boyfriend (gaslighter!). The number of times I was shouting to myself “No! That’s not what you should have done! Don’t give in! Do the thing, do the thing, aaaahhhh…” One consolation on the journey to finish the novel is that, ironically, precisely because of Leah’s submissiveness she has developed an inner voice in the form of her play’s main character, Jodie, a creative alter ego that lives in Leah’s head as Leah’s actual life becomes more complicated. But the complications are ultimately caused by Leah trying to get out of unhealthy patterns, and I was reading as fast as I could to find out if she would.

The conflict resolution class Leah gets signed up for by Edward (gaslighter!) proves to be a turning point for her in more ways than one. There are no hard-and-fast, magical solutions presented in the book. This is not a romantic comedy, though it has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments (actually did that on the subway one day while reading) that look as if someone took note of the absurd experiences in your own life.

This is one of the most engaging books I’ve ever read and it leaves you thinking after you’re done, because Leah, in my opinion, has been nicer to the people walking over her than necessary even after her breakthroughs (like to some gaslighters, but I might be thinking that because I was reading a book about gaslighting parallel to the novel), and there might still be some things in her attitudes to wrap up, BUT all of this contributes to a rare effect and the mark of a good novel: you may have finished the book, yet you know the character still has everything ahead of her.

 

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On The Street Where You Live by Mary Higgins Clark

The first entry was dated, September 7, 1891. It began with the words “Madeline is dead by my hand.”

Now doesn’t that chilling quote just make you immediately want to pick up the book? On The Street Where You Live is yet another masterpiece by Mary Higgins Clark and one of my favourite novels among all that I’ve read so far.

Similar to Remember Me, this book also contains an impressive amount of historical research from life in the state of New Jersey in the late nineteenth century, specifically a real town called Spring Lake, which exists to this day and retains many of the features that make you understand particular descriptions in the novel. Coastal, charming, attractive, based on a quick YouTube search it does look like the kind of place that combines a restful retreat with the possibility of hidden stories from the past just waiting to be discovered.

After my virtual stroll, I can picture vividly what it felt like for the novel’s protagonist, criminal defense attorney Emily Graham, to walk the streets of Spring Lake as it gradually moved towards summer, as well as her reactions and admiraton of buildings and houses in the town. Houses play a particular role in On The Street Where You Live, as in several other of Mary Higgins Clark’s books. A house, a home, is a smaller world unto itself, and Emily enters one when she repurchases a house that belonged to the family of one of her ancestors who mysteriously vanished in 1891. Yep, that ancestor was the very Madeline mentioned in that cold-blooded note at the beginning of the novel.

We, the readers, learn of Madeline’s fate before Emily does, and wait with baited breath until Emily herself starts searching for the truth as she makes increasingly frightening connections about not only Madeline’s murder, but the disappearance of other young women, both from the past and the present…

Worlds within worlds spring up cunningly in this confection of a suspense thriller. On one hand present-day Spring Lake emerges as Emily is coming to know it, on the other the ghost of the town from the 1890s is constantly moving parallel to us, becoming more visible through the book within a book Emily is reading to get aquainted with the past and try reconstructing the chain of events that led to Madeline’s disappearance and death. It is eerie, but in a delightfully addictive way, how 1890s Spring Lake becomes almost as alive for the reader as Emily’s Spring Lake. The insistent, almost mystical idea that past and present are imminent of colliding in some way is successfully rooted in our minds by the author and doesn’t let go until the very last words of the book.

Last but not least, the diary of a serial killer, while not overdone, is a disturbing world of its own as well. In fact, the results of writing are represented prominently in On The Street Where You Live, and this is done in contrasting ways. There’s the factual reporting in newspaper articles from the past, the dark aforementioned secrets written down for posterity with perverse dilligence and the nostalgic, absorbing memoirs from a girlhood spent in Spring Lake in the 1890s. The fascination and power that the printed word can evoke is displayed within a novel that in itself is a testament to both.