By Delilah S. Dawson
Pub date: 01-Feb-2022
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Three generations of abused women must navigate their chilling new reality as a mysterious epidemic of violence sweeps the nation in this compelling novel of self-discovery, legacy, and hope.
When Chelsea Martin kisses her husband hello at the door of their perfect home, a chilled bottle of beer in hand and dinner on the table, she may look like the ideal wife, mother, and homemaker—but in fact she’s following an unwritten rulebook, carefully navigating David’s stormy moods in a desperate nightly bid to avoid catastrophe. If family time doesn’t go exactly the way David wants, bad things happen—to Chelsea, and to the couple’s seventeen-year-old daughter, Ella. Cut off from all support, controlled and manipulated for years, Chelsea has no resources and no one to turn to. Her wealthy, narcissistic mother, Patricia, would rather focus on the dust on her chandelier than acknowledge Chelsea’s bruises. After all, Patricia’s life looks perfect on the surface, too.
But the façade crumbles when a mysterious condition overtakes the nation. Known as the Violence, it causes the infected to experience sudden, explosive bursts of animalistic rage and attack anyone in their path. The ensuing chaos brings opportunity for Chelsea—and inspires a plan to liberate herself and her family once and for all.
This is the first DELILAH S. DAWSON novel that I’ve read, but I should point out that we have appeared in Project Insider Art, an anthology filled with comics, cats, and crafts.
Up front, the author presents a note of trigger/content warnings which includes a little of her own personal back story of abuse. As she states: The Violence includes physical, emotional, and sexual abuse and includes animal death and graphic violence. Some of these scenes may be distressing for some readers.
She was not wrong.
Of the three protagonists, Chelsea Martin (sandwiched between her mother and her two daughters) immediately opens the books with the kind of marital abuse that made my heart feel like it was being tightened in a vice clamp. It got screwed tighter with each paragraph. Chelsea’s husband David controls everything about their lives. He abuses her in every possible way. The world they are in is post-COVID but the new pandemic, the Violence virus spread by mosquitos causes people to have blackout episodes were they are silent, yet primal. They will attack anything. Before it was even on the pages, I was rooting for Chelsea to get the Violence to give her husband some payback.
Chelsea is not only relatable to partners who have been abused, but also in her sense of loneliness and career failure. Since she was forced to be a stay-at-home mother, she tries what many women do — MLM (multi-level marketing) schemes. In Chelsea’s story, it’s an essential oils brand called Dream Vitality, a satire on the real world brand Young Living. The only person Chelsea can remotely consider a friend is a woman across the street in their development, Jeannie.
Ella is Chelsea’s daughter and the main protector of her six-year-old sister, Brooklyn. Ella should be finishing high school in this apocalyptic southern United States world, but her life veers off course hard and fast with nowhere to run. Even when Ella thinks she may be safe under the grandmother’s roof, she finds the abrasive, cold, and domineering environment as unbearable as living with her father.
Ella faces her own scenes of abuse from her boyfriend, her father, and her “uncle” Chad (a cop friend of her father). She has more moxie than her mother at the start. Where Chelsea takes the abuse from David (in order to keep him focused on her and not the girls), Ella doesn’t take it lying down from her boyfriend. She doesn’t fall for any of his apologies. She sees his one abusive moment as a sign of what could come having all the knowledge on the subject from watching what her father does every night to her mother.
If Chelsea is the person who can’t escape, Ella is the person biding her time and counting down the minutes until she can. Ella is courageous beyond measure. She never thinks she’s above living destitute and stealing food after scraping dead animals off of a floor. She wishes for comfort and safety, but she goes through her days knowing that if she wants it, she’ll have to make it happen for herself.
This brings us to the matriarch Patricia. Her past is nothing but Florida white trash, uneducated, and waiting tables to meet the next man she can manipulate with her sex appeal. Readers get to be inside Patricia’s head in the moments she experiences her biggest fears: reverting to piss-poor “Patty” again with no rich husband, no big house in a gated community, and saddled with responsibility. Patty barely raised her daughter Chelsea. The well-off version of herself, Patricia, has plenty of chances to come to her family’s rescue.
Patricia’s arc is classic soap opera pastiche! If you love to hate the soap villains like Erica Kane or Alexis Carrington, you will devour every scene with Patricia. She doesn’t exactly come full circle, but she believes she has. There’s no way not to avoid hoping she’ll grow to be nurturing and loving towards her daughter and granddaughters. When Patricia mistakenly bans Ella from returning to the big, fancy house, Nana accidentally makes herself the primary caregiver of little Brooklyn.
This little girl is constantly protected by those around her. She witnesses terrible things that people always say a child shouldn’t experience. It’s likely that the extreme trauma all around Brooklyn will be repressed. She’s the hope of the family, the delicate flame that people keep lit for warmth.
Brooklyn’s story is no less important even though she never gets to be the point of view character like the others. This is one fault I have with Dawson’s breakdown. There are two chapters where readers are popped into other perspectives when it wasn’t done through almost the entire book. We don’t need the perspective of River, a young man that Ella meets with his friend Leanne. We don’t need a chapter from David’s abusive POV either. We get more than eighty percent through the novel and suddenly there’s David’s narration. It’s not beneficial though more important than the rando River character. First of all, the book is long(ish) at 512 pages. Secondly, all the perspectives are from the women so shifting to non-binary River and cis/toxic male David, break that pattern in uncomfortable jolts. River is at least a good person, but even his friend Leanne would have made more sense to be part of the narrative since she’s the brains of the operation to get the vaccine out to the poor and middle class.
If you think you can handle spending a lot of time in a world of victims waiting for their story arcs to give them the pay out of having agency and satisfaction, then The Violence is fine for you. There were several times when I wanted to ditch it because it takes so long until any of these women catch the breaks they need. I was thrilled with the endings for each of them!
The book design credit is Caroline Cunningham, but I don’t know if that’s the cover designer. I bring this up because this US edition cover is brilliant with its blood red space and the butcher knife casting the shadow of a person. It’s minimalist and eye-catching.
Rating: 5 stars