Black and Blue
Anna Quindlen
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Buy Black & Blue online Black and Blue
Anna Quindlen
293 pages
February 1999
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Why women stay in relationships where their partner physically abuses them is something incomprehensible to those who've never been in the situation. If it were me, we say, I'd be out of there in a second. That's the theory. But until you've been there, you can't know how you'd behave. Pulitzer-winning columnist Anna Quindlen takes readers of her novel Black and Blue into the battered-woman experience. Matter-of-fact and horrifying, it is the story of one woman's attempt to save herself and her son from an abusive husband who sits untouchable behind a policeman's badge.

Curled Up With a Good BookWhen the story opens, Fran Benedetto has already fled her husband Bobby's fists, taking their son Robert and leaving their home. She has discovered a sort of underground railroad for battered women, a network whose resources can provide a new name, a new identity and a new place to live. What it cannot provide is an absolute sense of safety and freedom from fear. Transplanting herself from New York to Florida, Fran tries to become "Beth Crenshaw" and struggles to help her somber, old-soul young son make the transition into a life of hiding in the open.

The nearest Fran can get with her new identity to her old job as an emergency-room nurse is work as a home-care assistant. Living in a nondescript box of a house that is a far, far cry from the home she had created for herself and her family in New York, Fran begins to feel fractured in a purely emotional sense. She is Beth Crenshaw, the outer persona keeping her and Robert tentatively safe; she is Frannie Flynn, responsible daughter and beloved sister; she is Fran Benedetto, cop's wife, beaten woman. Constantly aware of the chance of discovery, Fran has to keep herself and her son from slipping up and giving Bobby Benedetto the chance to find them. She is certain that eventually just that will happen. She hears Bobby's voice speaking clearly in her mind without cease, condescending and self-assured.

Fran and Robert each begin making friends, finding ways to fit themselves into their new surroundings. Fran even considers a romantic relationship with an attentive, kind man nothing like Bobby. But while memories of the man she once loved and now mortally fears plague Fran waking and dreaming, memories of a much-loved father torment troubled little Robert. After a scuffle with some other children and an argument with his mother, Robert does what he inevitably will: he calls Bobby Benedetto. Fran discovers him and quickly hangs up, but the damage is done. Her last bruises faded and gone from her skin but not from her heart, Fran must face Bobby again in one final, brutal confrontation. What she wins and what she loses there will determine what ultimately becomes of her new life.

Fran's haunted existence, fully fleshed in flashbacks and self-analysis, informs those whose imaginings of the how, what and why of spousal abuse have been until now academic. Recurrently impassionate, detached prose bares the horror of domestic battery. This book is for everyone who has ever said "If it were me, I'd get out." Fran Flynn/Fran Bendetto/Beth Crenshaw shows readers matter-of-factly that black and white (and black and blue) can be far more difficult to judge when you're on the inside.

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