Saturday, August 02, 2014

Book review: Randi Davenport's The End of Always

“Men everywhere and the world belonged to them, and always had, and always would, and the very fact of this blinded them to the rest of us.” Such is the powerless environment faced by Davenport’s vulnerable heroine, 17-year-old Marie Reehs, who yearns to free herself from her family’s long-standing cycle of domestic abuse. Her story unfolds in a small town and in the woodlands of early 20th-century southeastern Wisconsin, whose laws didn’t favor women. Its history and geography feel realistic, but more importantly, it achieves an emotional authenticity that rings devastatingly true. Marie’s plight isn’t unusual, and many women today will see their situations reflected in hers.

Incorporating vivid sensory details and old fairy tales from the German island of Rügen, Davenport’s prose has a dark, mysterious quality as she reveals Marie’s tale, which is based on her great-grandmother’s life. The middle daughter in a poor immigrant family, Marie observes her father’s controlling, violent ways and knows that, unless she escapes, decisions about her life will always be made without her approval. After a bloody “accident” steals her mother from her, Marie is made to work in a nearby laundry under her employer’s uncomfortable stares. With her older sister Martha echoing her father’s harsh policies, Marie has no one to turn to – so can’t help falling for handsome August Bethke, whose German accent makes her feel at home. She doesn’t realize how little she knows about him until she’s trapped.

The novel affectingly explores the inner lives of women who hope so desperately for love that they’ll accept anything in its guise – and shows that other women who see abuse and do nothing are contributors to these destructive patterns. Due to its subject, the text is hard to read at long stretches, but it leaves a strong impact and offers a hopeful message that needs to be heard.

The End of Always was published by Twelve, an imprint of Hachette, in May at $25.00/C$28.00 (hardback, 324pp).  This review first appeared in August's Historical Novels Review

I chose this book since I seek out Midwestern settings as well as family sagas.  It takes place in and around Waukesha, Wisconsin, also the setting for the "Slender Man" attempted killing of a 12-year-old girl, allegedly by her two classmates.  This horrible crime hit the national news while I was reading the book, which made it an even more emotional reading experience.  The publisher's blurb calls the novel "a gripping reminder of America's love affair with violence."  Sadly, yes.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:13 PM

    There may still be a lot of women who accept "anything in the guise" of love, Sarah - hence the popularity of books like 50 Shades of Gray.