Sunday, November 22, 2009

Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen (1998)

Anna Quindlen's novel Black and Blue came out in 1998 and was immediately added to the illustrious ranks of Oprah's Book Club. Naturally it also shot right up the bestseller's list. At the time I was working at a Barnes and Noble and Oprah's Book Club was a Big Deal, and I didn't like it at all. I also had an immediate dislike for books on the bestseller's list since I had to stick 30% off stickers on every one of them, and then take them off all the ones that fell off the list at the end of the week. And yet, somehow, I ended up with a copy of Black and Blue that I have been moving around with me for the past 11 years. My copy even had one of those dreaded 30% off stickers stuck to the inside of the front cover. But: it came up on my random reading list generator, and I decided to finally give Black and Blue a chance.

This is the story of Fran Benedetto. She has been married to Bobby Benedetto, a New York police officer, for fifteen years. They have a son named Robert. She works as a nurse. And Bobby has been beating her since she was 19 years old.

As the book begins, Fran has started her journey away from Bobby with the help of a battered woman's organization that is run just like the witness protection program. She takes Robert and tries to settle down in an anonymous town in Florida, but all the time she is looking over her shoulder and waiting for her husband to find her. Gradually she starts to make friends and find work, Robert has a buddy in their apartment building and enjoys playing sports at school. Fran even finds a man who loves her, and who she thinks she can trust. But eventually, the inevitable has to happen.

Quindlen is a good writer, and the story is well-written with compelling (although sometimes a little clich├ęd) characters and a suspenseful ending. By the nature of the subject matter, the plot is pretty suffocating (everything is defined in terms of Fran's abuse by Bobby, and there is no doubt that he is going to find her and Robert eventually). I can't really hold the singular focus of the novel against Quindlen, since I'm sure that a woman in Fran's situation couldn't help but experience life just the way Quindlen writes it, but it does not make this an easy or really very enjoyable book to read.

Although it is occasionally a little overly Lifetime, I would say that Black and Blue has once again proven my distrust of Oprah's Book Club and the bestseller list wrong.

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