This is a fantastic horror/SciFi/thriller that analyzes what could happen if another, different kind of pandemic sweeps the world, and how three women living under the specter of domestic abuse can break free and make a better life for themselves. The disease, called The Violence, causes the infected to suddenly blank out and become deadly, viscously violent toward their target. Once the target is eliminated, the person drops out of the episode and has no memory of the attack. The world, suffering from COVID fatigue, initially discounts the disease and doesn’t take notice until it has spread like a wildfire through the populace.
The story focuses on three women from one dysfunctional family. Wife and mother Chelsea, who lives a meek, frightened life with a physically and emotionally abusive husband. Ella, her 17 year old daughter who loves her mother but also resents her for not leaving and for having to shield and protect her younger sister. Lastly, Patricia, Chelsea’s ruthless and narcissistic mother who cares more about living well and maintaining appearances than her family’s well-being. All three women have lived with abuse and been mistreated by those that are suppose to love them the most. The journey each woman takes to heal herself is different, but worth it in the end.
The story sets up the characters lives before The Violence emerges, and then follows them as it affects each of them differently. Chelsea finally finds the courage to break free from her abusive husband, but the toll it takes on her and her family may be too much. The author does a great job of building Chelsea’s personality and you can almost feel the claustrophobic and stifling life she leads. The quiet despair and self-loathing is hard to read. Even when she is doing everything she can to protect her daughters, you can feel her self-doubt leaking through. Typically in stories like this the victimized character has a huge breakthrough and then becomes a confidant person that doesn’t take crap from anyone ever again. However here, Chelsea comes out from under the shadow of domestic abuse tentatively and cautiously. Small victories to others are huge ones for her. Her quiet moments of standing up for herself are enormous victories. So, while there aren’t big loud moments (except one toward the end) exclaiming Chelsea’s character growth, the story is much more believable.
Through a series of events Ella ends up on her own in the terrifying world with no resources and nowhere to go. Having found the courage to break free from her own abusive relationship, she initially thinks herself so much stronger than her mother, but when faced with surviving on her own, her fears and doubts overwhelm her. When she finally snaps out of it and begins to use her wits, she figures out how to find shelter and some means of feeding herself. She finds a deep well within herself to take charge of her life and figure things out.
Patricia’s second husband is rich and provides her with all of the status and wealth she feels she is due, even if there is no warmth or love between them. Kicked out of her home while pregnant at 16 years old, scrimping and saving as a single mother, Patricia vowed she’d get the life she deserved one way or another. She never let herself get close to Chelsea, feeling that better she know how hard life is from the start than to be coddled. When her circumstances change and the life she knew is gone, she discovers that her former survival instincts are there and she is determined to harden up her 5 year old granddaughter like she did Chelsea.
But with nothing but time, and a 5 year old, on her hands, Patricia begins to reflect on her life and relationships with her family. Cracks begin to form in her stoic façade and she begins to soften. Initially I was skeptical that the author would be able to develop the character growth and change in Patricia that I could tell she wanted for her by the end of the book, but the skill she took in doing so made it believable. Although Patricia is the “villain” in the story and not as big a character as Chelsea, I thought she had the more interesting journey and biggest change. I loved seeing how Patricia realizes that things don’t matter, people do. She understands that real relationships with real feelings don’t make you weak, but rather strong.
This is a long book, but it reads quickly. I was immediately invested in the story and couldn’t put it down. The author does a great job of building an extreme world for the backdrop of a classic story of overcoming your fear, defeating your abuser (or at least, getting away from them) and making your life what you want it to be. Easier said than done, sure. But most things worth having are.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Rey. All opinions are my own.