The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner

“Nothing, but nothing, will block the awareness of anger so effectively as guilt and self-doubt. Our society cultivates guilt feelings in women such that many of us still feel guilty if we are anything less than an emotional service station to others.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 256 page.
Read from May 20, 2020 to June 2, 2020.

I don’t get angry. At least, not by what would you define as anger. I don’t even really know how to identify anger in my self as it automatically turns inner shame, guilt, and tears after many years of repressing it. What’s sad is that I’m not alone in this. So many women find themselves in adulthood without the ability to properly acknowledge, manage, and deal with anger that they’ve been quietly but forcibly told to subdue their whole lives.

“Why are angry women so threatening to others? If we are guilty, depressed, or self-doubting, we stay in place. We do not take action except against our own selves and we are unlikely to be agents of personal and social change. “

Angry women are bitches, unapproachable, threatening, and above all, never taken seriously, at least this is the message we are taught from a very young age. Our anger is shaped internally so that it doesn’t come out and eats at our insides. I never thought a book published in the 80s would still be so relevant to today.

“Nothing, but nothing, will block the awareness of anger so effectively as guilt and self-doubt. Our society cultivates guilt feelings in women such that many of us still feel guilty if we are anything less than an emotional service station to others.”

This book is still in print for a reason as women are still grappling with societal norms in a changing world. What I enjoyed about this book is that the author gives a variety of examples of women dealing with anger and how it is affecting their relationships, either with a spouse, family member, child, or in a work setting. The author details how women often express their anger and the disservice that it does and how to change that dynamic.

The author talks about over and under-functioning dynamics in relationships and how identifying that can help you determine where your energy needs to be directed. For example, oftentimes women are the overfunctioners in relationships and may carry the emotional weight in a marriage. When the woman recognizes that the worry is not her’s to carry in a given situation with her spouse, as the choices of her spouse are out of her control, the shift of worry is given back to the spouse. These shifts can be tumultuous as people are resistant to change, even if its change that is desired. The spouse may become anxious and stressed because the spouse was doing all the worrying for him about this given issue and that pressure caused him to previously distance or defend himself. Now, since the woman has backed off, he must deal with that given anxiety himself.

“We cannot make another person change his or her steps to an old dance, but if we change our own steps, the dance no longer can continue in the same predictable pattern.”

This is just a very simple example, as the author goes into specifics about a variety of relationship dynamics and how often times the anger we feel and the blame we try to place is often our own. We are angry but the other person we’re angry at is comfortable with the arrangement, so who is truly responsible for our anger and who is the person that’s really able to bring about change? It’s a simple concept but often one we’re not able to recognise when we’re involved in it. Recognising relationship dynamics such as these allows women to acknowledge their anger by putting the energy back into themselves instead of being overly emotionally involved in others.

The book itself is concise and details relationships in a balanced manner that portrays both genders perspectives appropriately and in a variety of different family dynamics. It’s not a self-righteous book by any means but it is able to identify the unique position that women often find themselves in. Now that I’ve read this book, does this mean that I’ll able to get angry in a healthy manner now? Not necessarily but this book has provided me with some understanding that will help me acknowledge the roots of my anger, in whatever form that it appears in, and the central part that I play in it when it comes to my personal relationships.

I would recommend this book to women who find themselves full of self-doubt when it comes to decisions and conflicts so that they can turn that guilt into what it really is, anger, and learn to find a healthier approach and create more balanced relationships with yourself and others.

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

“A story lives transformed by a gesture not made or a word not spoken”

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 176 pages.
Read from May 7, 2019 to May 8, 2019.

Confession; This is my first read by Ian McEwan and I think that this novel was a great introduction to his writing. I look forward to adding a few more of his books to my TBR pile.

This is a deeply emotional novel of the marriage of a young couple in the early 1960s. Florence comes from a well-to-do family and is a brilliant violinist who hopes of pursuing a musician as a career. She is recently married to Edward, a historian, of whom she met by chance at university. The two of them maintain this image of a perfect relationship and are looking forward to the next step in their lives after marriage. The novel opens with the two of them on their honeymoon right after their wedding. While the world is slowly starting to emerge into the swinging sixties, Florence and Edward, are still generally conservative, meaning that they have yet to become sexually intimate. Edward is beyond excited to consummate their marriage but is extremely worried about his performance and is wracked with anxiety. Florence, on the other hand, is terrified. She has no desire to be intimate with anyone and has been frigid throughout their whole relationship. However, Florence’s behaviour is not created out of modesty or disgust as Florence has a secret trauma she cannot bring herself to deal with. The story is a slow burner with the climax (no pun intended) during the moment the two of them attempt to consummate their marriage. The couple’s lack of communication and utter embarrassment about the whole ordeal leads to tragic consequences for both of them.

As a reader, you want desperately to shake Florence and Edward and get them to actually discuss their feelings instead of hiding behind this facade that each of them has created. Florence and Edward’s story addresses human vulnerabilities and the extremes that we go to in order to maintain an appearance and not show our deepest selves and secrets, especially when it comes to sex. As a reader, you connect deeply with this newlywed couple as many of us have experienced similar issues with vulnerability and communication and you really want the best for them. Both Florence and Edward had an idea of what they thought might make them happy but their inability to communicate their fears resulted in their demise and their whole lives changed within an instant. You can almost feel the deep regret oozing from the pages by the end of the novel.

This is a moving novel on a difficult topic that the author masterfully executed. I would recommend this novel for anyone interested in literary fiction or stories about intimate relationships.

The Return by Joseph Conrad

There aren’t many authors that can write in a second-language as successfully as Conrad has.

3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 75 pages.
Read on April 6, 2018.

The the last time I read Conrad I was in high school devouring Heart of Darkness, a book I should really put on my reread list. I was sauntering through the library looking for a short read to help me catch up on my reading goal when I came across this short novella.  Unlike the adventures in the Congo in Heart of Darkness this story focuses on the deeply psychological nuances of marriage.

Did you know?
Conrad was born in Poland in 1857 and English was not his native tongue. He did not speak it fluently until his twenties. There aren’t many authors that can write in a second-language as successfully as Conrad has.

It was a normal day for Alvan Hervey and as he arrived home from work he was expecting to find his wife at home, instead, he left with a letter. The letter explains that wife has left home for another man. Alvan is beyond surprised with this shocking betrayal and he starts in a downward spiral and examination of his relationship in which it becomes clear that Alvan is more concerned with appearances and what sort of shame this event will bring him.  As his frantic thoughts race, his wife interestingly returns home. She has come to tell Alvan that she has made a mistake and that her affair was never consummated. Alvan’s wife is distant and her return appears reluctant and more out of a sense of duty than anything.

“You are deceiving yourself. You never loved me. You wanted a wife – some woman – any woman that would think, speak and behave in a certain way – in a way that you approved. You loved yourself.”

The story is emotionally and psychologically driven and anyone that has ever been in an intense argument with their partner or spouse can appreciate the terse environment that is created in this extremely personal setting. This book was published in 1897 and would have offered a rare insight into the very private lives of people at the time.

By the time the novel ends, Alvan’s revelations and jealousy reaches a new height,

“Can you stand it?” and glared as if insane. Her eyes blazed, too. She could not hear the appalling clamour of his thoughts. She suspected in him a sudden regret, a fresh fit of jealousy, a dishonest desire of evasion. She shouted back angrily–

“Yes!”

He was shaken where he stood as if by a struggle to break out of invisible bonds. She trembled from head to foot.

“Well, I can’t!” He flung both his arms out, as if to push her away, and strode from the room.”

Alvan can’t cope with his own failings and revelations that there is no going back from this point in his marriage. The wife, while she has returned, has expressed her deepest needs that she feels were not being met and pointed out some harmful and hurtful truths that Alvan is having trouble digesting.

The story shows both sides of the conflict equally, the reader all seeing insight into the couple’s troubles. By the end, the reader appreciates the choices made by either side of the conflict. If only we had that kind of insight into our relationship disputes, hey?

This book is a good quick read and introduction to Conrad if you have not read him before. If you are looking for another good reason to read this book, you can also read it online for free!