Here is the mistake: to have given into happiness. She will be punished now.
Abby had hoped that becoming Mrs. Willem Zengler could save her, the damned, the cursed. Is it possible to cup happiness in both hands and drink from it? When she closes her eyes to sleep, it is always there, the bones, the horror. Love can’t chase that away, nor could protection. It always finds her, and the past won’t let her go. As a new bride she steps into traffic, maybe she was sleepwalking? She seemed so agitated! Witnesses saw something wasn’t right, her face one of horror, fear but of what? As if she were being chased.
Her husband Willem doesn’t understand, he must remain at her bedside in the ICU. What will he say if she wakes up? What if she strode into traffic by choice? What does any of this mean? He is gut sick, worse, he keeps playing back their meeting in his mind. The possibility that she has lied about her life disturbs him. This disorientation, it’s happened before, hasn’t it? He remembers too the restlessness, the whimpering cries while she was asleep, dreaming. He vowed to protect her, that is his role as her husband, but now as she lies comatose, the proof is he has failed her.
What of that parent-less past doesn’t he know? She doesn’t want to tell, she doesn’t want him to pursue her fears, her dream, her terror. She is both the victim and the perpetrator, in her memory. She carries an entourage of skeletons, she was so young, but it’s her fault, isn’t it? In order to be free, she must stop running from the nightmare. It is a ruined house, her entire childhood, a ruined house. She doesn’t want to be that orphan again with a tragic past, a past that is rotting somewhere, still undiscovered either in her mind or the tall grass, or both. What would Willem think?
She has been trying to keep herself together, to be the right sort of woman, but her happiness as a newlywed is blurring, the poison of her past is bleeding through and there isn’t an escape, not even in a handsome, tall husband. There is no shelter, no escape from the pursuit.
She is not who she professes to be, she is not fully present, and she can’t fake it anymore. Life always circles back, the past comes back for you, how like a ring.
This is a fairly short novel considering the many books I have devoted my days to reading by Oates. She has an intuition about the things we don’t talk about or present to the world, and writes about them like no other, so I am always delighted to read anything she puts to paper. This is a fast read, and you are in the confusion, the terror of Abby’s mind before the “accident” and tormented by the ghosts of her past as if you are in her shoes. It’s very much about the effects of trauma. How unfair, the things we’re forced to carry behind us, like a rotting corpse. Some childhoods aren’t about frolicking in the fields chasing butterflies, at least not in Oates world. Here children are left with blood on their hands.
Publication Date: October 11, 2019