A little more than half way through editing my most recent novel The Secret Deaths of Arthur Lowe, I realized that on a certain level I was writing about a subject not meant to be highlighted in the novel. The subject of domestic abuse.
I always have a little social commentary in my work, because having those discussions is kind of how I live my life. Subjects in line with politics, religion, family life, the future, education, and literature (obviously) pop up daily. The list expands on the regular.
With that said, I was writing Arthur Lowe and including elements of domestic abuse but not writing about it. Ironically, the novel doesn’t work without it. So if you read it (and hopefully you do), if the subject seems slyly incorporated, it’s because it’s there accidentally.
I’ve made this mistake in my writing before. A friend had to convince me that my novel In Blackness was a horror novel. I had no idea. As a side note, a few practice readers told me Arthur Lowe was horror as well. I’m not so sure. I’m sure if I market it as literary-romance it’ll scare the hell out basically every reader, but that’s a whole other subject, I’m sure.
So here’s the thing I realized—my protagonist is on the wrong side of domestic abuse. Oh, he’s not getting abused. He’s doing the abusing.
By gaining this information, you’d presume to dislike this character. Here’s the thing—and it’s tricky—he doesn’t realize he’s abusing or abused her for most of the novel. The reader isn’t privy to it for most of the story either. In fact, for a draft or so, the author of the novel didn’t recognize the character’s abusive nature. The author is me, if for some reason you missed that point.
I’m not going to tell you what he does to abuse her, because that would be a spoiler. I will say what he doesn’t do. He doesn’t call her names, even in private. In fact, he shows the utmost respect. It’s obvious he adores her, actually. He doesn’t hit her or put her down in any way.
So where’s the abuse?
Better question, what is abuse?
I’m no specialist.
Nobody in the story is a specialist either. No one in the novel gets treated for abuse. There are no social workers helping, not in this piece.
Again, what is abuse?
To those with real education on the matter, try not to take offense with how I speak to it right now. I’m not trying to gloss over anything. It’s just that it’s in the novel, so I want to talk about it. If anyone says, hey, is that subject really there I’m going to say, yes, and I’ve acknowledged it.
Right now I’m going to explain and simplify the type of abuse my character Arthur Lowe does.
I recognized his abuse as him doing the following: constantly using his power on his wife, and not recognizing his power or his use of it, even after she strongly suggested it was the case.
I see this sort of thing all the time in the real world.
I see men forcing their will on women, and not recognizing they’re doing it, and women not understanding it is happening. Uneven relationships. In my character’s case, his ego is boosted by his relationship. She does not benefit.
Sure, I’m generalizing, and from a male perspective, but so what. Moving on.
Here’s my rule that Arthur Lowe doesn’t follow. It’s a character flaw, and a reason I dig him a bunch. Here’s the rule: You have to recognize the power you have. Everybody has some power. Recognize it. Chances are, if you have power, it’s because someone granted it to you. You can forcefully get it granted, but you still have to attain it. If you don’t recognize the power they’ve given you and you habitually fail to attempt to reciprocate, chances are you’re being abusive.
Arthur Lowe is wielding much, much more power than the average person. He spreads it out in such a way that it won’t hit you in the face, it’s not immediately highlighted. In fact, a few beta readers actually wondered why his wife, after years of abuse, was so upset with him.
What I’m saying is, at risk of sounding like the proverbial skipping record, abuse is not always so easily seen, not so easily dealt with, but it manifests one way or the other, I’m sure.
From a writing standpoint, the big question is this: will the readers dislike Arthur so much that they don’t like the story, because it’s his story, nonetheless.
I use the element to add to his character. Not sure if I’ve read a character quite like him who needs to deal with elements quite like he needs to.
By all means, if there is any opinion about the subject or about how I presented it, let’s discuss it. Just try not to curse me out. I’m a dude. I don’t even know when I’m being offensive.
I know. Ironic, right?