Land of Enchantment: A Memoir by Leigh Stein

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“These were my own private bruises to poke at.”

Maybe not all young girls and women have a bad man go through them, but it seems to be something most have experienced at some point. That relationship that seems promising, that makes you dizzily sick with love and then somehow it spirals out of your control and somehow into his? This memoir seems to me a purging, Stein carries the bacteria of her doomed love for an abusive Jason with her long after he is out of her life. When she learns of his tragic death in a motorcycle accident, a strange ending for a guy that reminded her so much of rebel without a cause actor James Dean, it is time to ‘poke at those bruises.’ Having to deal with her own mental illness may well have made her susceptible to a damaged boy, but the truth is- even the healthiest of girls have found themselves with someone who breaks them down, turns them into a mewling weak person who they never would have been without said partner. Abuse reminds me so much of how insidious water damage is behind walls. You see a stain but it is so small and don’t realize behind it there is toxic black mold that can do you in. When you are young you fall into love until you are stupid, and every bad thing that is said or done is excused away, because when he’s good, he’s gold. Why do so many women blame themselves for a man’s failings? If you already feel down, it seems you expect the kicks you get, and how much more when you are already full of insecurities and self-hate from an mental illness or not? This story feels young, because she was still wet behind the ears during her time with Jason. It also felt familiar, in a not so distant way. Full grown, some of us have daughters and they too often fall into the ‘save the rebel’ trap.  Why do women stay when they are hit? Because it doesn’t start out that way, does it? Often, a woman wonders ‘how did I get here? How did I become this? When did it happen? And there is a sort of brainwashing process, all the degradation begins slowly until you believe it. It’s the silences, the ugly words and insults, rushing to soothe him in his blow ups and tantrums. It’s that mothering bone so many women have that urges us to fix things. You think it’s not you, because you’re successful, so what if you ‘turn the other eye’ when he has his affairs or silence yourself when he brings up things you feel insecure about, it’s not being hit? There are so many small abuses women endure and don’t even bat an eye. You become used to it.

Stein’s situation is different, having struggled with her illness in her formative years. Can a guy smell it on you, the old wounds? Is that how it happens? Why do some of us lean towards destructive people as a flower leans toward light? How do we cut the cancer of bad love out? You hear so many women say ‘I’d never be that stupid’ and yet… it happens even to the most highly educated, successful women, doesn’t it? Moving, beautiful writing and a touchy subject for many. I am always surprised by how many female friends have ‘been to the bottom of the barrel with a bad man’. One thing is sure, you come out of it altered and often stronger in the broken parts of your soul. Reading this is being there for an awakening, an eye opening journey into recognizing the parts of yourself that you are unkind to as you hitch a ride through Stein’s painful past. I think a lot of young girls fall for that damaged boy, whether you want to blame it on movies that tell us we can ‘change’ a man or on our own mothers quieting their voices to please their demanding husbands or call it a girl’s own weakness, it’s something all women should dissect and try to understand. Going back with Stein through her journey was hard to stomach, because of the raw honesty. So young and foolish, so hopeful for love. Isn’t that most of us when we’re young and shaky, unsure? Some have been there, some never will but that doesn’t mean your own daughters or nieces won’t. Makes me catch my breath just thinking about it.

Out Now

Penguin Group Blue Rider Press & Plume

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