Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris – Shattering the Perfect Man Myth
Marry in haste...Repent in leisure...
If Fatal Attraction was a cautionary tale to men who cheat, than this could be a cautionary tale to women who cling to the perfect man myth. It seems women are hard-wired with the belief that one day our prince will come and he'll be handsome and perfect, fed by all the fairy tales we were spoon-fed as little girls. Most girls when they become women grow out of that, but some other women still cling to that fantasy. I feel like the protagonist, Grace, is one of those women that clung to that myth, otherwise when her perfect man starts showing her that underneath that perfect veneer is a big sack of slimy worms she wouldn't have tried to excuse his behavior and not see the truth.
As previously mentioned, Grace Angel is our protagonist, and her husband, Jack is the antagonist. Those around them believe that Jack is the perfect man and that Jack and Grace have the perfect marriage. None can see that under the veneer of the Angels' perfect marriage is like under Jack's veneer as the perfect man; a bag of slimy worms.
Grace meets Jack when she's in the park with her Downs Syndrome sister, Millie. Millie is dancing around and Jack suddenly stands up and dances with her. Other men haven't been so accepting of Millie; Grace had broken up with a longtime boyfriend because he didn't want the responsibility of caring for Millie the rest of his life. After that she lamented ever finding a man willing to take on Millie. Enter Mr. Perfect and she buys his act hook, line and sinker.
Jack is a defender of abused women, but his reasons for why he does it is the same as everything about him, it's a slimy bag of worms. Jack isn't even this guy's real name. He wanted to take on the name Gabriel Angel but he thought that might be too much for people to swallow so he chose the name Jack because in the movies the guys named Jack were strong. Then he set about perfecting his perfect man act.
It isn't long before Grace agrees to marry him. It's during their engagement, if Grace was more willing to look at him with clear eyes, opposed to with stars in her eyes, she would have started seeing the cracks in the veneer of his fake perfection. He demands she quit her job and she does it. He picks out what she'll wear at their wedding. And the guy that is supposedly so accepting of her sister, Millie, doesn't want Millie to be a part of their wedding party. He even picks what house they'll live in.
When I watch Say Yes To The Dress I'm always repelled by these men who are dictating what they want their brides to wear for their wedding, despite what the bride actually likes. Seriously, if a man truly loves you if you wear a potato sack to the wedding he'll think you look perfect. It's a tip off this guy is controlling and you need to nip it in the bud or kick him to the curb. If he's trying to control what you wear to your wedding, what else will he be controlling about after you marry him?
I have to admit I had very little sympathy or empathy for the Grace character. I don't know how many times I was reading this book and I'd start yelling at her calling her a stupid [insert expletive]. Jack does something truly rotten to her on their wedding night and she makes all sorts of excuse to explain it away when it was a big tip-off that she needed to GET OUT NOW! There were a couple of times she could have gotten out before she got trapped in the mess she made for herself. Jack even gave her the opportunity to GET OUT NOW and she wouldn't take it as she couldn't stop clinging to him being THE PERFECT MAN and there being some excuse for why he was acting the way he was. The answer to why he was acting that way he was was because he was a big sack of slimy worms. Even Millie was smarter than Grace and she ends up giving Grace the solution to how to get free of Mr. Perfect.
I have to hand it to the author as from the first couple of paragraphs she sets up the tension and it never lets up. She drops little hints that despite what the other couples see, this is not a perfect relationship. Each chapter switches back from the present to the past and we keep seeing more and more revealed to what's really going on in this marriage and it isn't pretty. It's a great page-turner.
We never really know what's going on between a couple behind closed doors, even if we're behind those doors with them. I lived with a couple for a time and I thought they had one of the most toxic marriages I'd ever seen. She was hooked on prescription medication and every time the husband had a birthday or there was a holiday or they planned a trip she would ruin it by getting high. During one of her frequent trips to Prescription Drug Land she screamed and harangued him and claimed he was a sociopath and he just sat there and seemed to go some place else and just put up with her behavior. She was also convinced he was trying to kill her. Did they love each other? I don't know. They inspired me to write a poem of an outsider never understanding what went on in a marriage. They remained together until her death, with her still claiming he was trying to kill her, but she would never go through with leaving him. Perhaps it was love that kept them together.
One thing this book did for me is just reconfirm my six month rule. I think you need to live with someone at least six months before agreeing to marry them. When you first meet someone you put your best face forward, but when the newness wears off you drop the facade and start showing your real self. As the old saying goes, marry in haste and repent in leisure.
I don't know if I found Jack's ultimate fate to be satisfying. It's books like this that make me release was a sadistic and vindictive little beast I can be. If you send someone to prison or kill them they still won't suffer as much as what they did to you. Although there was a bit of karmic justice in it when you recall what he did to Grace's dog, Molly. Still, I would have enjoyed a few chapters of Grace giving it back to him for what he gave to her. It's kind of left to our imaginations the belief he got a taste of his own medicine in the end.
I would definitely read another book by this author.