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.

The Fruit of My Woman by Han Kang

“He’s been extremely kind. He bought a huge flowerpot and planted me in it. On Sundays, he spends all morning sitting on the balcony threshold catching aphids.”

3/5 stars.
Online read, 28 pages.
Read on December 18, 2019.

Read the story for FREE here: https://granta.com/the-fruit-of-my-woman/

Since I can’t currently read any more novels in English by Han Kang, having read them all already, I’ll take what I can get.

This unique metamorphosis story set the stage for Han Kang’s The Vegetarianone of my all-time favourite novels. The story is narrated by the husband of a married couple. He starts to explain how his wife woke up one day with bruises that were not going away and continued to spread all over her body. He details the nuances of their marriage and some of her personal traits. As a reader, you begin to pick up on aspects of the marriage in which the woman might not be happy with as the husband is oblivious to his wife’s needs, desires, or wants. For the wife, marriage has not turned out how she expected it to be and as a result, the couple is not communicating well.

‘This isn’t living,’ she spat out, ‘it only looks like it.’ Her voice was edged with hostility, like a drunk’s slurring declamation, This country’s rotten through! ‘There’s no way anything could grow here, don’t you see? Not trapped here in this . . . in this stifling, deafening, place!’

As the bruises spread, the woman feels a pressing urge to sit naked outside in the sun. She slowly starts eating less and less as the bruises spread and deepen in colour. The doctors, of course, can find nothing wrong with her. Eventually, the husband comes home to find his wife stagnant on the floor gasping for water and from there, the wife slowly progresses into the form of a tree. The story switches narration to the wife and her thoughts as she progresses into her final form.

What makes this story remarkable is that you get both sides of this marriage and that in the end, the husband states that he had never seen his wife so beautiful. It’s as if, the wife, by finally letting go and growing into something vibrant and alive the husband finally comes to see the person that she really is and give her the care that she deserves.

Poetic, beautiful and extremely visceral, which is exactly what I’ve come to expect from Han Kang and her translator Deborah Smith. If you haven’t read anything by Han Kang or are looking to try a book in translation I would highly recommend starting with this gorgeous short story.

Suzanne by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette

A creative memoir on the presumed life of an absent mother.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 265 pages.
Read from February 28, 2019 to March 1, 2019.

Anaïs never knew her mother’s mother, Susanne, nor did her mother, really. After her grandmother’s passing Anaïs hired a private detective to get the details on why her grandmother was such a fleeting presence in her family’s life. Short-listed for Canada Reads 2019, this is a creative memoir taken from the facts gathered by the private detective in an attempt to piece together the life a woman who abandoned her two young children and caused a void in her family that is felt for generations. The book will be defended by Yanic Truesdale during the Canada Reads 2019 debates at the end of March.

canada-reads-2019-yanic-truesdale
Yanic Truesdale will be defending Suzanne by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette during the debates taking place on March 25-29, 2019.

Susanne was originally written in French under the title, La femme qui fuit (The Woman Who Ran Away) and has been beautifully translated into English by Rhonda Mullins. Bravo to Rhonda who has managed to capture the poetic prose of this story in translation.

Susanne is successfully written in the second person and reads like an elegant poem of yearning as Anaïs envisions her grandmother throughout the different stages of her life. The book is far from accusatory and it reads like a real memoir in many aspects. The yearning is for forgiveness, understanding, and for the answer to the one question that neither the author or her mother get an answer to, why did Susanne leave?

Susanne led a tumultuous and intriguing life that included the great depression, political and art revolutions, alcoholism, homelessness, asylums and more. Even with the details unearthed from Susanne’s life, the author can still only speculate as to what drove her to her decisions and imagine how she might have felt in different parts of her life. Why did Susanne decide to abandon her two children, one of whom is Anaïs’ mother, after giving them such tender care for a few years? And then show up at Anaïs’ birth and a few small moments in her mother’s life? Guilt? Remorse? Forced responsibility? As Anaïs speculates, Susanne may have lived with guilt but ultimately may not have been able to face the choices she made, to which, Anaïs forgives her.

What’s the most moving about this book is the wonderful poetic prose which makes for a highly readable book that is easy to connect with. Anaïs is an immensely talented writer whose writing it literary and stimulating while also being highly accessible. I truly enjoyed this novel and felt entwined with Susanne’s gripping story, even if it is only through the speculative hope of her granddaughter.

This engrossing story is going to give the other contender’s in the Canada Reads 2019 debate a run for their money and I am looking forward to hearing how it is received.