I left my wedding dress hanging in a tree somewhere in North Dakota.
I don’t know why that particular tree appealed to me. Perhaps it was because it looked as if it had given up and died years ago and was still standing because it didn’t know what else to do.
That is, by far, one of my favorite opening lines to a Contemporary Women’s Literature book ever. And then I read the book. And it touched me, ripped my heart, soothed my mind and eased my soul in so many ways that one moment I was laughing hysterically at the antics of the four main female characters, the next sobbing uncontrollably over the pain and fear that women and children face – the innocent and the damned.
Growing up unloved and neglected is horrific. Not only because your parent doesn’t love you, but because you know your parent doesn’t want your love. You learn that your love is inferior. Unneeded. Worthless. You’re inferior, you’re unneeded, you’re worthless.
I grew up as the child of a sociopath. I know from growing up unloved, unneeded, being told every day I was worthless. How awful is it that Julia’s life make my own look like a walk in the park with ice cream and flowers? The daughter of an alcoholic meth head, Julia spent her early life beaten, neglected, starved and repeatedly raped and abused by her mother’s “boyfriends,” a collection of alcoholic, meth head pedophiles and violent criminals.
But Julia perseveres, gaining her degree in art and working in a gallery in Boston, pulling her life together and trying desperately to forget from whence she came. Desperate to feel ‘worthy’ she accepts the advances of the wealthy, entitled Robert Stanfield, the latest scion of a wealthy Boston family. At first thrilled to gain the attention of such a man, she soon learns the truth. Robert is a true psychopath – a vicious and abusive rapist who slowly comes to swallow up Julia’s life, pushing her into a cycle of fear and abuse that soon drains the very soul from her body. Blaming herself for what he does to her, as victims do, she takes his abuse, hoping that he will change, that things will get better, that she really can look forward to a good life with this monster. But finally, on her wedding day, with her face broken and eye swollen completely shut, she flees the monster that is her fiancé and takes off across country to her aunt in Golden, Oregon. Like Julia, the town itself is broken by the closing of the mills and factories, leaving the citizens who stay impoverished but still proud. Still rallying around one another. None so much as four very special friends.
Gaining the safety of her Aunt Lydia and her friends in Golden, Julia soon settles in. Though she still has violent, terrifying nightmares, and fears she suffers a “Dread Disease” that causes her to have attacks which leave her breathless and exhausted, she slowly begins to feel safe in the company of Lydia and Caroline, Lara and Katie, a diverse group of women with their own issues and agonies, laughter and pain. Caroline, tiny and poor, living off vegetable sales and psychic readings. Lara, wife of the town minister whom she adores, but who is over stressed and underappreciated, the daughter of a cruel and arrogant minister who preaches hellfire and damnation to all who don’t bow down before his wrath – including his own tormented children. And Katie, who runs her own cleaning business and raises her four children while her useless, abusive drunk of a husband steals her money, terrorizes her children and steps out with other women to her face. Together, they make up a band of some of the strongest, most eccentric, most lovable characters I have ever “met.” As others have said, you can certainly compare the book in many ways to The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. However, in my mind this book is much more. These women have come together from diverse backgrounds, meeting at stages of their life where they are each fighting their own personal battles of the soul.
But don’t let me lead you to believe that this is a “Debbie Downer” of a book – not at all. As I mentioned earlier, I literally laughed till tears ran down my cheeks at the antics of these women and their friends. Who can’t get a kick out of “Breast Power Psychic Night?” And while as a whole they may not have any reason to hold any affection for men (well, except for Lydia, who has been courted by the same man for the last twenty years) there are some wonderful male characters to offset the true monsters of the tale. Yes, there is horror to be had by the boatloads. Sanctimonious ‘church ladies’ with spiteful, viperous tongues, filled with gossip and sanctimony. Cruel drunks. Child abusers, alcoholics, drug addicts and pedophiles. All make their appearances, and affect the lives of our beloved ladies. But Lamb uses a deft hand in her development of the friendships of this little band of women into something that brings not only joy and laughter, but also a bright light of hope into some very dark places. There are dark moments – but the bright soon overcomes the dark, pulling these wonderful characters together into a book that no one, even the testosterone powered, should miss.
I. Loved. This. Book. I really did. It hurt sometimes – I have a lot in common with these women, and truly felt their pain, down deep where I have packed away my own. I pulled these people into my heart, and though it did hurt in spots, it also made me feel wonderful to meet this rowdy, broken bunch of women. I was interesting to me that other reviewers “didn’t connect” with the characters. I suppose they should be happy that they didn’t – anyone who has no experience with how truly horrific life can be at times should thank their lucky stars that this is so I suppose. As I watched Julia, with her huge boobs, wild hair, and horrific background grow into her personal power I urged her on, watching with great happiness as she opened herself up to not only her own faults, but to her power as well. As for me, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. There is great love and joy to be found – the love of self, of friends, of children and of life itself. I came to Ms. Lamb’s work late (this book was originally published in 2007) but now that I have found her work, I will be looking forward to reading more!