Thursday, May 22, 2008

If I Am Missing Or Dead by Janine Latus

At age 37, Janine Latus's younger sister, Amy, was strangled to death by her live-in boyfriend, bundled in a plastic tarp and buried beside a remote country road. It was a wretched end to a too-short life, one frequently marked by disappointment, sadness and struggle. In the hands of a less gifted writer, Amy's story might stand only as an encomium or a cautionary tale: a glimpse into the life of one abused woman, representative of thousands like it. But Latus weaves a double strand. Part memoir, part biography, the book (which grew out of an article in O Magazine) explores Latus's own relationships with abusive men—and her eventual emancipation from a marriage riven by emotional and physical violence. Latus has a spare, economical style, softened by an undercurrent of humor and marked by a total absence of self-pity. When on a ski vacation, a boyfriend brutally beats her, breaking several of her ribs and her nose—and then makes love to her, in a twisted form of penance—Latus doesn't wince in the retelling. She lets ambiguities and contradictions abide: she loved her husband, even as he humiliated and hurt her. Had things been slightly different, she seems to say, she—and not Amy—might have perished at the hands of her partner.

This was a very interesting, hugely personal book to read. It's a true story so the ending falls a little flat when you're used to expecting some twist or justice to settle things. It's the story of abuse, but not the physical abuse we're used to reading about (although there's a little of that thrown in) but rather mental and emotional abuse over a lifetime. The family seems to have turned out quite well all things considered, especially as they band together. But Janine herself has lived quite a rocky road of experience that she only finally managed to overcome. It's shows in precise detail that as close as people can be ... there are somethings you'll never tell because of how you feel they'll reflect on you personally and because deep down you really do end up believing it's your fault. I don't think there's a person out there (woman, at least) who can't relate to this story on some (albeit hopefully lesser) level.


boldly benny said...

Sounds like a very interesting read - thanks for this.

phillygirl said...

@bb - no problemo, hope you enjoy it!

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