Book Review: Leaving by Marguerite Morris

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Leaving: One Woman’s Story of Verbal Abuse
Marguerite Morris
Bowker, 2019

 

♦♦♦
3.5 Stars

 

Our contemporary moment is making it easier for those who’ve suffered domestic abuse, women especially, to share their stories. Writing has long been a cathartic process, one where individuals can confront their fears, guilt, shame, and anger while literally composing themselves to express their hope, pride, and self-assurance. Memoir is a keen vehicle for this kind of writing, Leaving by Marguerite Morris takes readers on the author’s journey escaping the verbal and emotional abuse of her marriage. In the process, Morris survives a critical medical condition while (re)building her relationship with her children. 

Reading Leaving, I feel as though I’m reading someone who could have been my mother. Morris writes with a naked honesty that’s not so much raw as knowingly earnest and uncluttered by ego. We see how the constant gaslighting and tearing down done by her husband leads Morris into a cycle of negative self-image. It is clearly debilitating and yet we grow with Morris as the seed of self-respect grows inside her until she finally has enough. However, breaking away from domestic abuse is no simple thing. This is especially true the longer the marriage. To find yourself at late-middle age having to start anew, without traditional support systems, and no real sense of where to go or what to do is clearly terrifying. Morris elegantly combines this quiet terror with resolve as she shows us in an early scene where she confronts the idea of leaving her long-term marriage and home:

Now in the darkness of the early morning when I walked out of the house it felt like I was practicing leaving before the actual leaving. I got to the edge of the property of my dream house. The next step could be jumping off a cliff. I wanted the moon to tell me what would happen, or at least catch me when I fell. But staring at that huge white ball in the sky comforted me. Wherever I go I can still the moon rise into the sky at night.

This is what we mean when we say that people who leave abusive relationships are brave–they go out into a world where the everyday pragmatics of living have either completely changed since last encountered or wholly foreign (and often they are both). When Morris first encounters someone call her courageous she expresses a frighteningly common and hopeful reaction, “No one had ever used those words to describe me. I didn’t claim them but I did touch them gingerly with one finger with a wonder that being them might be a possibility.”

As she goes from a forgettable California beach town to Australia on a trip of self-discovering and revitalization with her eldest son, we shadow Morris as she finally becomes herself. The eponymous leaving is only the first stage of this story. Morris confronts her cancer diagnosis, builds a new relationship with her sons, and finds in herself the ability to survive, that is, remain in the world. Readers will find Leaving not merely inspirational but casually powerful.

 

About the Author

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“I have always been a writer. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. It was the way I expressed myself when I was young. Words that didn’t come easily out of my mouth somehow made more sense on paper. I could spend time with the words, cross them out, choose a better word, and rearrange the sequence. Before computers—yes there was a time before computers—my page of crossed out words, words above other words, words squeezed into the margins and trailing down the page was a jumble that I could somehow refine and make better. I loved doing that.” Read more about Marguerite here.

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