Life & Style
On Being Brave Enough to Talk About It
Luanne Rice draws inspiration from locations and friends she’s made on the shoreline of Connecticut. Here she’s shown with Cynthia McFadden, who inspired one of the characters in The Shadow Box, Rice’s most recent novel. (Photo courtesy of Luanne Rice)
Luanne Rice is the New York Times bestselling author of 36 novels, including three young adult novels, that have been translated into 25 languages. The Shadow Box, her latest, focuses on Claire, who is struggling to break free from an abusive relationship. (Photo courtesy of Luanne Rice)
Luanne Rice, her friend Cynthia McFadden, and her son Spencer McFadden Hoge at the Bee & Thistle in Old Lyme. Rice often draws inspiration from her friends and locations along the shoreline of Connecticut for her novels. (Photo courtesy of Luanne Rice)
Luanne Rice with Beep at the Cooley Gallery in Old Lyme. (Photo courtesy of Luanne Rice)
Breaking free from an abusive relationship can be a terrifying back and forth kind of thing, complicated by shame.
Take, for example, Claire, the protagonist in the new novel The Shadow Box. For years, her husband has verbally attacked and bullied her. She knows she’s being psychologically battered and she should leave. But, as an otherwise strong, successful woman, she hates to admit defeat.
She’s embarrassed she’s covered up for him, and stayed with him, this long. Whenever he says he’ll try to be better, she wants to believe him. Again, and again. Finally, she resolves to leave, but then she is brutally, physically attacked by someone she suspects is her husband. But she can’t be certain. The attacker was masked.
After the attack, she needs help. Who can she trust? Her circle includes the family members, close friends, ardent admirers, and supporters of her successful and otherwise charming husband. Left for dead on her garage floor, she feels all alone, certain there is no one to help.
While one of the best reasons to read The Shadow Box is that it is a well-written, fast-paced thriller, that it also addresses domestic violence makes it particularly pertinent now.
The New England Journal of Medicine, in its December 2020 issue, reported that with people confined to their homes during the pandemic, along with the financial, familial, and social stresses created by the pandemic, that there is a substantially increased risk of intimate partner violence and that people suffering from it, trapped at home with their abusers, were likely having a hard time accessing support services.
But they are out there, and there are people who can help.
The Complex Process of Breaking Free
The author of The Shadow Box, Luanne Rice, who lives in Old Lyme and set the novel on the Connecticut shoreline, will be featured in a Zoom discussion of the book being hosted by the Essex Library on Sunday, March 14 at 1 p.m. Registration for the event is required and can be made by calling 860-767-1560 or visiting www.youressexlibrary.org/adult-services/adults-featured-events.
Rice says she hopes her new book might remind those who are suffering from intimate partner violence, psychological abuse, or any kind of domestic violence that there is help, and that the book might help others understand the complex process of breaking free.
It’s been decades since Rice felt trapped in an abusive relationship, but when she talks about it, her voice reveals it still feels like yesterday.
“You know, don’t ask the question, ‘Why did she stay?’ Ask the question, ‘Why did he abuse her?’ People never understand why we stay. Staying because I want more? No!” she says. “It’s very important for people to see the wheel of abuse and the cycle. There’s the build up. The explosion. The cool down. The honeymoon. And the moment you forgive, and say OK? That’s the moment you lose a little more of yourself.
“There’s a lot of blaming the victim, blaming the woman. There’s just so much blame,” she says. “That’s something I’d like to change, if only in a little way.”
It’s that blame that can create the shame involved with admitting you are in such a relationship.
She says maybe women who read her book will recognize themselves and be brave enough to keep reading, to understand a little better what’s happening, and to reject the shame and the blame.
“I’ve written about it in other novels, closer to the time it was happening to me. And I’ll keep coming back to it. It was so damaging and so profound,” she says. “I don’t know if I want to tell my story. But I might.”
She pauses, and we talk about whether that’s something she wants to do. She says yes, and continues.
“I left. I left many times. He’d beg me to come back. He’d be different. I believed him. When I finally left him, after leaving him many, many times, I was driving down Route 1 from Old Saybrook to Westbrook and there was this sign, Domestic Violence Clinic of Southeastern Connecticut,” she says. “I felt like, ‘Is that me?’ But I was never beaten. But that day, I was very, very broken. I pulled over and went in there. The director and the assistant director were there. They listened to me. As I talked with them, I began to howl. I realized, it was me. And that I was somewhere where I could get help.”
While that office is no longer there, she’s remains a huge advocate of Safe Futures (safefuturesct.org), a shelter based in New London, which also provides advocacy services in court, during divorces, and during related legal proceedings for people caught up in intimate partner violence for people in the New London area, including Lyme and Old Lyme.
New Horizons (www.newhorizonsdv.com) provides similar services for Chester, Clinton, Cromwell, Deep River, Durham, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Killingworth, Middlefield, Middletown, Portland, Old Saybrook, Westbrook, and areas nearby.
BHCare (www.bhcare.org) helps people North Haven, Hamden, New Haven, East Haven, Branford, North Branford, Guilford, Madison, and areas nearby.
Happy Beginnings, A Happy Ending
The story of how Rice came to live on the shoreline, and draw inspiration from the area, is a happier one.
As a kid, she used to visit her grandparents during the summer in Old Lyme at their home, one built in 1938 that survived the Great New England Hurricane that hit in September of that year. Her mother, an artist, would take her to the Florence Griswold house even before it was a museum.
Since settling on the shoreline, Rice, the author of 36 novels, including several adapted for television, has a built a rich life here, filled with writing and work supporting organizations like Safe Futures and with organizations like the Connecticut Audubon Society, reflecting her love of nature. It’s also a life filled with good friends.
One of the characters in the book, one of the heroes, is based on one of Rice’s good friends, Cynthia McFadden, a renowned television journalist who also lives on the shoreline.
“She’s brilliant and so intrepid,” Rice says. “She writes about segments of society that have been overlooked or ignored.”
Claire, in The Shadow Box, is an artist, inspired by the artists Rice knew and studied as a child. When Rice writes a novel, she doesn’t start out with a plot, she starts with a character.
“The character of Claire for me, really was central. She came to me and the story unfolded,” she says.
The character Claire, at one point in The Shadow Box, reflects on the nature of her relationship with her husband, which she characterizes as a “dangerous love,” saying, “There is power in dangerous love. You can be so focused on the forbidden nature of it, justifying your choices to the world…that you miss the fact that you’re completely wrong for each other.”
Rice says that can often be the case when someone has made a choice in love that is unpopular with family or friends.
“People think he’s wrong for you. But you’ve gone all in...and the longer you go, the more dug in you get. You’ve invested so much time and you want to make it work,” she says. “I have a theory that women who end up with abusers are actually very strong...They want to help him and heal him.”
Claire also tells herself she’s not “the abused women type.”
Rice says she can relate to that as well.
“Well, nobody likes to be called a victim, or to call themselves a victim,” she says. “Especially if you think of yourself as a strong woman.”
Rice says her advice to someone who feels that they are trapped is to “first of all, honor what you’re feeling and know if you’re feeling it, it’s likely real. Don’t doubt yourself because he’s telling you it’s wrong.”
And she urges people experiencing abuse to seek out help, and to try to remember “the things that you love and that make you who you are. Nurture that side of you, and do what you love. Do something that helped form your identity, something in the arts maybe, or outdoors. For me, being in nature really helped. I think that was the most healing thing of all. Swimming in good water. Walking on the beach. Focusing on birds.
“And if you can be brave enough to talk about it, then talk about it. That’s the most important thing, to let it out and start telling people,” she says. “Find someone you trust, a professional person for sure, or maybe someone in your own circle, your sister, your friends.”