Danielle Neves’ debut novel is informed by her work as a domestic violence court advocate. Crazy Bitch: A Portrait of Domestic Violence attempts to demystify the pathological dance of denial a victim and aggressor will complete. It’s a fictional story that’s been informed by real-life events, namely the themes and excuses that can be a sad constant in this deplorable issue.
The tale is mainly told in two interleaved parts. The first is through a series of letters from the injured party, Veronica to her abuser, Pete. The other part is from Pete to his brother, Steve. Pete has been incarcerated and his notes serve as a kind of “right-of-reply” to his ex-girlfriend’s dialogue.
It’s obvious from Veronica’s letters that she’s an educated woman (an ex-Catholic school girl turned law student) who had fallen on hard times. Her letters read like a therapeutic journal and are full of sadness and sometimes regret as she looks back at the past. These are emotional and mostly believable but sometimes the language is a little over-the-top (for instance: who uses the word “interminable” in a letter to an ex?)
Pete’s letters are different but seem more authentic. He proves to be aggressive, ill-informed and laden with excuses like she’d pushed his buttons or was a “crazy bitch”, “damaged goods”, “manipulative”, “a junkie”, etc. Pete proves a hypocrite because for all of his admonishments towards Veronica over her drug-filled past, he happily glosses over his own problems with drugs and alcohol.
The book is a horror story that does occasionally suffer from the kind of voyeurism you typically experience when reading misery literature. It’s a very fine dance between educating and going into graphic detail about terrible events. The author doesn’t dwell too heavily on this, but that doesn’t mean the book doesn’t suffer from a different series of drawbacks.
The story is told by the two main characters meaning we often fail to get a complete sense of their back-story, especially with Pete. Although Veronica’s junkie past is described, the book would be stronger had Pete’s history been discussed in greater detail. This would’ve given a fuller and more vivid picture and insight into his current psyche because at times he feels hollow, like a prototypical bad guy or caricature.
One of the novel’s strengths is that suspense and tension are created so that the reader must continue on to discover why Pete was gaoled. There is also a good twist at the end and the use of fictionalised newspaper articles adds an extra perspective to the domestic violence theme. Crazy Bitch also does a reasonable job in answering the question that crosses many people’s minds i.e. “Why doesn’t the victim just leave?” The answer here – like in many real-life examples – is that the abuse is slow and systematic. The victim’s rights are gradually eroded and the abuser occasionally offering tiny glimpses of empathy and kindness.
Crazy Bitch: A Portrait Of Domestic Violence? is a short but often quite difficult and confronting read. It deals with a sensitive and complex topic with a deft hand. It is one of few books to get both sides of the abuse story (i.e. from the victim and the perpetrator). Plus, the overarching message is a good one and that is that everyone has the right to feel safe in their own homes and that abuse of any kind should not be tolerated.
Originally published on 28 January 2013 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/book-review-danielle-neves-crazy-bitch-a-portrait-of-domestic-violence
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