Terrible Reviews: The Violence

I knew that this book had come out, and I was conflicted about it. On the one hand, I’m a fan of Delilah S. Dawson’s books that I’ve read before, so I kinda knew I was gonna read it … but the writeup made me nervous.

Three generations of abused women must navigate their chilling new reality as a mysterious epidemic of violence sweeps the nation in this compelling novel of self-discovery, legacy, and hope.

Now, nothing against stories with female protagonists, or anything like that … but I read “compelling novel of self-discovery, legacy, and hope” and I think “Eat, Pray, Love” and … that’s just not my thing, man.

But you can’t get to that last phrase without reading about the “mysterious epidemic of violence” and that very much *is* my thing, man.

Mild spoilers only for this review ahead. I’m going to do my best to talk about this delightful book without giving too much away, as it really does deserve to be experienced with its surprises intact.

Truthfully, I’ve not been reading as much as I would like this year (throw that in the bucket with everything else I’m not doing as much as I’d like in the past couple years…. let’s not talk about any of that) and even when I do, it’s a little bit here and a little bit there, and it kinda feels like a slog. But The Violence was, for me, that rare book that you legitimately do not want to put down.

From the first mini-climax where the main protagonist (yeah there are 3 main female characters but Chelsea, the wife and mother, is pretty obviously the central figure) escapes her abusive husband, I was glued to the pages and cheering on the inside … and then I realized I was only a quarter of the way into the book.

And it’s a wild ride for the rest of the story. Most of the book takes place in a wild hellscape where at any moment, the person sitting across from you could rage out and murder you for no particular reason, which is both extremely unsettling and extremely understandable in a post-COVID world (yeah, I know, we’re not exactly post-COVID because it’s here to stay, but because it’s here to stay and everybody has had the chance to get vaxxed or take whatever preventative measures they plan to, we’re essentially post-COVID, again, let’s not get sidetracked). On the one hand, it’s metaphorical — that person looks harmless but they could very well actually kill you, in the way anybody carrying a deadly communicable disease could. But here in The Violence, it’s terrifyingly literal and immediate. Dawson has somehow captured that uncertainty inherent in every personal interaction in 2022 (is this person a threat to me if I do the wrong thing, say the wrong thing?) and made it tangible, and that’s something.

What’s fascinating about this book is how the protagonists go from fearing this disease, to exploiting it, to coping with it in a way that’s safe for them and for everybody around them. The turns are unexpected, the payoffs are huge, and the climax is as satisfying as could be hoped for.

Look, I was about to wrap it up right there, and I know I said only mild spoilers, but I can’t help it. I can’t talk about this book without gushing a little bit. Each of the three central women faces an oppressive male figure, and each of them deals with her abuser in a creative, unexpected, and satisfying way, the central character actually doing so twice.

Damn, I just can’t. I just can’t with this book. It’s so good, and it’s so enjoyable, and I loved it, and I wish I could re-read it and be surprised again.

This is not your mom’s female empowerment novel; this one is bloody, and terrifying, and so, so good.

Five out of five pink plastic makeup cases, all splattered with blood.

For good measure, a couple of passages so good I had to yoink them for the ol’ quote book:

To think: Two huge, earth-shattering, terrifying things happened yesterday, and yet here she is at the breakfast table, pouring a bowl of Cocoa Pebbles.

“Never make yourself smaller to suit someone who wants to feel big.”

…she realizes that out of all of them, Brooklyn might make it to adulthood in one piece, not weighed down by the bullshit trauma they’ve been passing along hand-to-hand like a coveted recipe that always omits some important ingredient out of spite.

Do yourself a favor: head on down to the ol; bookstore, or your library, or your fancy clicky e-reader and give The Violence a try. And make sure your immediate area is clear of Yeti beverage tumblers … it turns out they can be lethal in close quarters.

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