Revenge by Mary Morris
Reviewed by Rima Walker
A trauma occurs in your life. It devastates you. How do you deal with it? You can work it out within yourself until you reach acceptance or you can let it take you over completely. You obsess over it, you let it interfere with your work and relationships, and you drive people away from you because it is the only thing that exists for you. Andrea Geller, a gifted artist and adjunct art teacher at a small private college, is in such a state of turmoil.
Andrea’s trauma is the death of her father from a terrible car accident that plunges him off a bridge. She believes that this was no accident, that her stepmother overmedicated him and then sent him out at night on an errand in the hopes that he would lose control of the car and die. She believes that on the night of her father’s death, after a very long time in a coma, she heard him call her name. Describing herself as a “cracked vessel”, she knows that she can find no proof and must carry the burden of her belief until she herself dies.
Her neighbor, Loretta Partlow, is also an artist—a world-renowned writer of novels filled with the miseries of her characters. Just as Andrea can’t paint anymore, Loretta is equally blocked. She has not written a new book in years. Andrea seeks Loretta out and makes friends with her, hoping a novel based on her story could ensue. Andrea has heard from others that Loretta will use anyone who has been through ugly life experiences as grist for her mill. Then Andrea can give the book to her “wicked” stepmother and say “I know what you did.” That will be her revenge.
The relationship with Loretta changes Andrea, who grows to value the new closeness. Loretta takes her under her wing, introduces her to new people, invites her to social gatherings and thereby rescues her somewhat from her self-imposed semi-isolation. But the obsession continues. Andrea starts a series of paintings of the summer home that was the site of happiness with her family and particularly with her father. The paintings, over 50 of them, seem to spring from something within herself that she cannot control, each growing darker and more menacing. But as an art teacher, Andrea’s relationships with her students are fascinating as she skillfully guides them through the process of becoming artists themselves.
The novel deals with many themes we can relate to aside from obsessive behavior including the nature of our relationships with parents, friends, lovers, colleagues; how we handle guilt and grief; how we rewrite our own past in order to deal with the difficult situations we encounter in life. It reveals as well motivations in seeking out others not only for friendship but also for personal purposes and how people and institutions can manipulate others to get what they want. Part of this last is a minor but interesting theme concerning life on a campus in a college town and the treatment of full-time faculty as opposed to that of exploited adjunct teachers.
Throughout the book we wonder how Andrea will emerge from the complexities of her obsession and her relationship with Loretta. We also wonder if Loretta is truly Andrea’s friend or is simply looking for a way out of her writer’s block. The novel, smoothly written, reveals the intricate conflicts of creative temperament in juxtaposition with the hard truths of everyday life that affect it.