This is kind of a brutal novel. It’s been generally been reviewed far less positively than many of her other novels. I first reviewed The Beet Queen and if I didn’t know much about the author, I don’t know that I could identify them as the same person. That said, I do think this is a strong novel in a lot of ways, but it’s not a fun novel, or really a beautiful novel. But it is powerful and terrifying and has a real energy behind.
If you were to read the back of the novel you would see that the lead character has found out her abusive husband has been reading her diary, so she begins to write a second diary that is less well-hidden and is deceptive of her real feelings. So it’s kind of like Gone Girl, right? No! It’s not. This is not a thriller at all. Instead the diary is a defense against his increasingly abusive orientation toward her and their children. The diary becomes less about a carefully plotted device as in Gone Girl and more about showing the duality that this woman feels is necessary to confront the abuse. In this way, this novel feels sparse at times because it jumps between three different narrators, the two diaries and a third person narrator, with a short section at the end narrated by their daughter.
Part of the appeal/abjection in this novel is that it supposedly tracks the author’s own previous marriage to writer/artist Michael Dorris, who after a divorce, accusation of abuse, dies by suicide a decade or more before this novel came out.
So in a way this novel feels a little like gravedigging, which isn’t inherently a bad feeling for a novel given how many novels do excavate the abuse and pain someone faces in their own life. But for Louise Erdrich it feels off because of how much she seems to stay away from her own life for her subject matter. Also this is a novel that relies on contemporary touchstones more than her others do. So if I’m being honest, it’s weird to have Louise Erdrich mention World of Warcraft.
This is a terrifying novel. And the autobiographical elements do create that sense. To think Erdrich went through this, and more to the point contributed to this relationship is horrifying. This novel sheds light on why abusive relationship do sometimes last for long periods of time and does not make excuses for why our main character stay, with her children, with this increasingly scary man.