Bookshelf Project 2016 #11: The Woman Destroyed
Before I finally took this book off of the shelf, I thought it was nonfiction, like The Second Sex. But it turns out that The Woman Destroyed is a actually a series of three novellas: The Age of Discretion, The Monologue, and The Woman Destroyed. Each story centers around a different woman. The second story was too stream-of-consciousness and disjointed for me, so I skipped it, but I really enjoyed the other two stories.
The first, The Age of Discretion, tells the story of a mother struggling with the loss of her son to his new wife, a woman she doesn’t respect, and the feeling that her husband no longer loves her. It’s a poignant story about aging, about marriage, about motherhood, and about how the stories we tell ourselves are often tragically wrong.
The Woman Destroyed was my favorite story–the most sharply-rendered telling of infidelity that I’ve read. It’s the diary of Monique as she struggles to reconcile herself to the fact that her husband Maurice is having an affair. Monique’s twisted logic is heartbreaking–she tells Maurice she is okay with his affair, wanting desperately to believe that he will soon grow tired of the other woman and come back to her with renewed love because she was so calm and self-sacrificing. But, predictably, he only spends more and more time with his mistress, driving Monique slowly mad with jealousy and doubt and sorrow.
It’s the immediacy of her thoughts, the real-time feeling of the diary, that makes Monique’s suffering so relatable and terrible. Of course, I did not stick around after my own husband cheated on me, but I experienced a kind of accelerated version of her feelings of shock and loss and bargaining and self-deception. At times, the story was painful to read in its insight, almost as though I was reading my own thoughts. But it’s this kind of writing that I long for, the kind that inspires such a feeling of connection it’s as though the writer and the narrator and me are all one person. Ironically, Joe himself came home with this book one day because he got a copy at the office and thought I would like the cover.
Here are some of my favorite lines:
“All women think they are different; they all think there are some things that will never happen to them; and they are all wrong.”
“I believe that with that splendid male illogicality he holds me responsible for the remorse he feels–holds it against me.”
“He has manufactured grievances to excuse himself for deceiving me–he is less guilty if I am at fault.”
“I am in a dilemma. If Maurice is a swine, then I have wrecked my life, loving him. But perhaps he had reasons for not being able to bear me any more. In that case I must look upon myself as hateful and contemptible, without even knowing why. Both suppositions are appalling.”
“When this happens to other people it seems to be a limited, bounded event, easy to ring around and to overcome. And then you find yourself absolutely alone, in a hallucinating experience that your imagination had not even begun to approach.”
“Every night I call him: not him–the other one, the one who loved me. And I wonder whether I should not prefer it if he were dead.”
“The whole of my past life has collapsed behind me, as the land does in those earthquakes where the ground consumes and destroys itself–is swallowed up behind you as you flee. There is no going back. The house has vanished, and the village and the whole of the valley. Even if you survive, there is nothing left, not even what had been your living space on earth.”
“There was a time when I could go to the cinema and even to the theater all by myself. For I was not alone. His presence was there in me and all around me. Now when I am by myself I say to myself, I am alone. And I am afraid.”
It’s difficult for me to even quote these lines because they feel so personal, as though they came from my own thoughts. And it’s been over two years and there’s this pervasive feeling of guilt because I should be “over it” but I’m still haunted by dreams and flashes of memory and remnants of that old life. It’s not just one event, though, “a limited, bounded event, easy to ring around.” There are repercussions everywhere, in everything, reverberations and echoes in books and songs and pieces of jewelry and photos and intersections and movies. There is no end, no neat wrapping up of loose ends. It’s just a piece of life, real and unreal as anything else.