Sometimes in fiction we come across a book that does so well at portraying a reality that it might as well be non-fiction. In my opinion The Widow is one of those books. Fiona Barton has taken her experience as an award winning journalist and turned it into an amazing book about the struggles of the wife of a man who has been accused of a hideous crime.
In today’s society, especially with social media, it’s very easy to demonize someone for something they aren’t necessarily guilty of. Recent examples include the parents of the child who fell in the gorilla enclosure, or the parents of the child who was snatched by the alligator in Florida. Rather than empathize with these parents and try to understand what they’re going through, so many people have spewed vitriol on their social media accounts letting those parents know just what a terrible job they have truly done.
I think this is often the case of the spouse in high profile court cases. There are some exceptions to this of course. One big example that I can think of is Karla Holmolka who actively participated in some of Paul Bernardo’s crimes. But in many cases the spouses are often unaware of the illegal and illicit activities going on around them.
Imagine what that would be like. Finding out through the media or a knock from a police officer on the front door that your spouse has been up to no good would be devastating. Most people’s first reaction would be one of loyalty. If they’ve had no reason to be suspicious up until that point they wouldn’t start then. It wouldn’t be until much later that questions might arise.
Now factor in a woman with no self-esteem or self-value. Jean Taylor has spent her entire married life being defined by Glen’s perception of her. He has made her believe that she is the great wife she is today because of the way he helped her and guided her. He’s convinced her that he has no fault in the crime he committed. He twisted it to make her feel like it was all her fault. So why would she come forward at that point?
It’s hard to understand a situation like that unless someone has experienced it. Often abusive and controlling relationships happen because the one being abused actually believes the absolute crap their spouse says. Their self-esteem is so little that when their spouse calls them down and disguises it as care the victim actually believes it. If the person being abused is actually in love with their abuser it can be even more difficult for them to see reason.
When we think about it, it’s often the people we care about the most who help shape our self-image. Our parents are our first source of positive reinforcement and support. They are the first to let us know that we can do things and be successful. We believe them because we care about them and trust them and know they have our best interests at heart.
This is what can happen in abusive relationships. You take a person who struggles with issues of self-worth and give them someone who “cares” about them and you’ve got the perfect situation to morph them or brain wash them into becoming something else. When the victim hears the negativity and the gentle corrections from their spouse, the person they care about and trust, they take them into account and try to correct their behaviour. The cycle just spins downward from there.
For those who have a healthy self-image and plenty of self-worth it can be very hard to understand how that situation can occur. That’s why Barton’s book and others like it are so important. What Barton did with this story is amazing. Her book helps us to see this part of the world a little more clearly. It’s easier to be far more empathetic with those spouses after glimpsing a reality where it could happen. Barton turned a fictional story into a factual argument for a certain scenario to take place.
Jean’s plight in this story was only one of the many themes that Barton touched on in this book. And wow, I don’t want to spoil anything, but the way she showed Glen toward the end made me think of things differently, too.
What Glen did was wrong; it was awful, disgusting, perverted – you name it. Barton showed that Glen knew all of this and hated himself for it, yet still he followed through. Why? Because he was addicted. And while many of us are quick to brush that off as a choice, few truly understand the power of an addiction and what it takes to kick it.
Today we are finally starting to view addiction as something more than a choice. It is being defined in many cases as an illness. Sure, addictions often start out as a choice, but in the end the inability of the person to quit is what makes the illness. It becomes a mental, and in some cases physical, dependency.
It took Glen a series of decisions to get to the place where he couldn’t shake the addiction, but to be fair to him some of them were knee jerk reactions many would make. When he found out he was infertile, and how depressed his wife was because of it, he became quite distant from her. There was a wedge between them and he turned to something that would at least give him some release. From there it was a slippery slope.
To make this clear, I do not in any way condone Glen’s behaviour or any behaviour which causes harm to others. However, I think in order for society to work together to come up with a way to help those who suffer from addictions we need to first understand where the situation arises from. It’s only from there that we can begin to address the underlying issues that caused it.
I hope that those who read The Widow will see the world a little differently because of it. It’s obvious that Barton put a lot of time and effort into her research and into the execution of this story. It definitely deserves its place at the top of the best seller’s list in so many different countries.
I could seriously go on and on about this book and the many layers and themes that make it so outstanding, but I feel at that point it will become a long-winded essay, something I’m sure nobody was looking for when they clicked on the link. I will happily discuss it with anyone who wishes to, so, by all means, please feel free to contact me on Twitter or Facebook.
If you know of any new or indie authors worth checking out, let me know. I’m always looking forward to the next great read.
Happy reading, folks!
The Beguiled Bibliophile