An anti-romance, sometimes referred to as a satire, is a type of story characterized by having an apathetic or self-doubting anti-hero cast as the protagonist, who fails in the object of his journey or struggle. (Wikipedia)
Ruth Patchett lives in a nice suburb of Eden Grove. She is married with two children, a dog, a cat and a hamster. The house has two bathrooms and picture windows. It is very new. It is a good life. Unless you consider the fact neither husband nor children really love her. Nor her parents, actually. Neighbours tolerate her, barely, because she does not fit in the stylized middle class suburb at all. See, Ruth is a hulking 6’2 with deep-set eyes and deep-set eyes, hairy facial moles. And she is clumsy and awkward. Otherwise, yea, a good life it is.
It all happens quickly. When it rains it pours (*). A dinner with her husband Bobbo’s parents becomes a disaster and he leaves for his mistress. See, Bobbo lives in an open marriage (Ruth not so) and is very much infatuated with Mary Fischer, a writer of Cannonball Read friendly books and says that “I don’t think you are a woman at all. I think what you are is a she devil!”
The power of words! Later that night, alone in her bedroom Old Ruth is transformed into a totally new incarnation. During the book there will even more changes.
I want revenge
I want power
I want money
I want to be loved and not love in return
In Now, Voyager (1942) Paul Henreid lights up two cigarettes and gives the other to Bette Davies in the most romantic gesture involving carsinogens. He was afterward accosted by women who wanted him to light cigarettes for them. In The Life and Loves of a She Devil Ruth lights ciggies and smokes them before throwing them in a trash bin. Aided by open gas lines, boiling cooking oil in a deep fryer and in fact everything flammable her house burns down. Luckily, that didn’t go viral.
(In case you were wondering, the kids were at McDonald’s during the arson.)
Mary will bring the shocked kids to Mary Fisher posh place by the sea. Bobbo will be stunned, too, to hear that the house was burned and that the insurance will not be paying any compensation due to the way the fire was set. Oops, it slipped from Ruth to the firemen at the scene of the house warming party.
Ruth will go through with many names, jobs and people in her trek. She is a nurse in an old people’s home and in a mental institute; she starts a temp agency for women and exploits romantic weakness of one temp to punish Bobbo (there it is again: anti-romance); she corrupts a Catholic priest; she even scorns feminists. Etc.
One of the few people she “cures” is a judge who needs his dose of sadism in order to function as a proper and neutral arbiter of law. (Yeah, sure.) The sadism is more or less neutered. Her wife is spanked no more (it was Ruth’s ample bottom that did it) and the children do not have to tiptoe around him. It is not a restoration of romance, rather, it is merely a new equilibrium of tolerable existence.
The Life and Loves of a She Devil reminded me of The Wuthering Heights in how cold and singular Ruth Patchett the protagonist is. In fact, I’m not sure whether she actually is a protagonist. Or a heroine. What she is, surely, is a most entertaining chaos agent on a mission that transforms the lives and loves of people around her. Hers is an anti-hero’s journey. In the end, she has become an anti-anti-hero.
The object of revenge, Mary Fisher is the embodiment of pure love. She writes those romantic novels where women are delicate and men hot yet sensitive (Read any such books lately?). Gradually, the love and romance is chipped away by Coke stains in carpet, tears in sofa, trash, snot, vomit, piss, shit, drooling, shouting, running, loneliness and encroaching poverty thanks to Ruth. Eventually, not even Bobbo will communicate with her. She is utterly destroyed; she was the embodiment of love; love has been destroyed.
Anti-love has won.