‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’
‘How could she kill herself and leave her baby behind?’
These are seemingly-simple questions with not-so-simple answers.
Kim Lock answers all of them in horrifying and convincing detail in her new novel, Like I Can Love.
About Like I Can Love
Fairlie and her best friend Jenna lived happily together in their tiny flat in a small South Australian town, both working as nurses at the local hospital.
Ark came into their lives, swept Jenna off her feet, moved her into his luxury home on his thriving vineyard, married her and made her a mother.
All Jenna’s dreams came true.
Why, then, does Fairlie get a phone call one hot January day to tell her that her best friend has killed herself; slit both her wrists in a locked bathroom while her toddler son slept in the bedroom across the hall? And what is in the self-storage locker that Jenna leaves behind for Fairlie to discover?
What unfolds over the course of the novel is a frightening story of manipulation, control and violence. The otherwise depressing tale is moderated through Fairlie’s light-hearted, no-nonsense approach to life and plenty of twists and turns along the way.
Variations on Jenna and Ark’s story happen too often in modern Australia.
Jenna’s story of domestic violence
Jenna is an assertive, educated woman who insists on her right to continue with her career. She’s exactly the kind of woman society believes wouldn’t ‘let herself’ be abused.
The brilliance of Like I Can Love is that Kim Lock shows in detail, over a period of years, how Jenna didn’t let herself be abused. She asked for help from a psychologist. She tried to show her husband that this wasn’t normal behaviour. She even tried to leave. Twice.
The transition from confident single career woman to desperate and abused prisoner happens slowly and subtlely. However, by the end of the novel it’s easy to see how Jenna felt suicide was her only option.
Ark’s story of domestic violence
Ark seems like a great guy. He’s gorgeous, attentive, funny and ambitious, ploughing his inheritance from his grandmother into building a successful vineyard.
For me, the alarm bells started ringing during this early conversation with Jenna:
‘Your parents fought?’ Jenna asked. Memories of her own father were affectionate, pleasant, even though her parents had separated before she could remember.
‘Hell no.’ Ark laughed abruptly. ‘Mum knew better than to answer back.’
Jenna started. ‘He didn’t hit her, did he?’
Ark shot her a quick sideways look. ‘Nothing serious, he wasn’t a wife beater. He was a good man. And never in front of us – she only told me about it later. Think he just pushed her a few times. But you know, I had a good childhood.’
This conversation makes Jenna uncomfortable too, but not enough to turn back. After all, everything else seems perfect. He treats her well; he treats others well.
When Jenna doesn’t get the message his mother did – Jenna does answer back – the problems start. But, just like his father before him, Ark doesn’t actually hit her. In 2016, the message about domestic violence has pretty much sunk in – hitting your spouse is not okay. But the verbal put-downs, the deliberate isolation from friends and family, the obsessive suspicion and possessiveness – disguised as devotion and love. The loss of control over your own life – financial, physical, social and emotional. These forms of domestic violence cut deeply, with tragic consequences.
Like I Can Love’s almost-happy neat ending irritated me. To be fair – it’s a novel and, as such, it needs a satisfying ending to feel complete.
Real stories of domestic violence, however, never have a neat ending. Not for fictional Ark, who has to deal with the long-term consequences of his actions. Not for Jenna’s 2-year-old son, left motherless and growing up with a horrifying past of his own to discover. Not for Fairlie, who must pick up the pieces left by her best friend’s violent death and somehow move on with life.
Crafting new beginnings
Breaking the cycle of domestic violence means stopping the horror before it begins – through education programs and changes in social expectations.
We also need to provide the means for victims to stop the horror once it starts – through better understanding of their experiences, adequate services and a court system which prioritises the rights of families to feel safe in their own homes, rather than elevating the misplaced gold standard of ‘equality in parenting’.
Buy from Booktopia.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.