Domestic abuse, especially when it involves children, is inevitably a grim and heartbreaking subject matter for a novel. Thatís why I was ready to get out the Kleenex when I picked up Susan R. Sloanís latest novel, Behind Closed Doors. The story of young Valerie OíConnor, Behind Closed Doors chronicles the naÔve womanís life from the moment she sets eyes on dashing airline mechanic Jack Marsh. Just barely out of high school, Valerie falls for Jackís good looks and charm and, when he asks her father for her hand in marriage, she couldnít be more excited.
However, Valerieís bliss is cut short soon after the honeymoon when she realizes Jack is not thrilled about her plans to have as many children as possible and that his charm is matched by his dark moods and excessive drinking. The situation worsens when Valerie becomes pregnant for the first time. This starts a cycle of violent outbursts that continue throughout Valerieís many pregnancies and the childhoods of the Marshís five children. Jackís abusive nature affects everyone in his family, causing disastrous effects in each and every Marsh. Unfortunately, with the poor characterization and simple writing style, itís a little difficult to care.
Although itís obvious weíre supposed to feel sorry for Valerie and her abused children, Sloanís writing doesnít make it easy. Valerie, instead of coming across as a victim, appears weak, spineless and not a little ignorant. She continually puts herself and her children in danger, year after year, without seeming to learn anything, and Sloanís explanation for this is not sufficient enough to make the reader feel sorry for her. Sloan also seems to think we should think of Jack as a victim, too, by throwing in sob stories from his childhood, but these donít even begin to explain his actions. As for the children, they are barely given enough backstory to even make them stand out in the readerís mind. The one child who does get some page-time of his own does little to win over the reader, probably because weíre given little chance to see into his heart and end up reading of only his delinquent actions.
I really was ready to feel bad for the Marsh family, but I felt oddly detached from all of them throughout the entire 400-plus page book. Behind Closed Doors does nothing to add to the subject of domestic violence and doesnít even accomplish the feat of getting the reader to connect with the victims, something that should be relatively easy in a book like this. With its shallow characterizations and the authorís habit of telling much more than showing, Behind Closed Doors should be passed up in favor of the multitude of other novels that handle the subject of domestic abuse in a much better fashion.