Few pieces of entertainment have the power to make me cry. For example, the scenes in Beauty and the Beast (1991) where the Beast releases Belle and she returns just in time to watch him die always draw tears from my eyes. So does the flashback of Po’s mother in Kung Fu Panda 2. I recently found something new that has a powerful influence over my tear ducts.
A Rare Book I Have Yet to Finish
I feel a deep need to share something that could make me look weak, foolish, or some other negative word in the eyes of people I respect. Much like my article in which I confessed my favorite movie character, I’m going to open my heart a little. It’s doubtful many people will have any context for why I consider a certain novel so powerful, but I suppose I’ll just have to encourage you to read it if you’d like to understand. I’ve started reading the third book in a series by Annette K. Larsen called Saving Marilee. The amazing thing is that I’m not even done reading this book. As I’m writing this, I’m on page 110 out of 270, but I long to share it with everyone. It’s that good.
To understand Saving Marilee, it helps to first read Just Ella and Missing Lily because those two books introduce the characters: a royal family made up of a king and queen and their seven daughters. I didn’t realize all of the sisters would turn out to be so interesting and fleshed out because the first book mostly ignored them or treated them as rather vain and naïve compared to the main character Ariella. When my wife brought home Just Ella, I thought it was a one-off novel, but I did a little digging and found that it has four sequels. My wife devoured them all in a week, but I’m a much slower reader, so it’s taking me a while to catch up.
A Different Kind of Story Than I Was Expecting
I found Just Ella perfectly charming and Missing Lily even better. They are romances in which the two lovebirds meet early on and are forced apart by circumstances, even though they seem to be frustratingly close to finding happiness the whole time. They’re kept away from each other by love-triangle misunderstandings. But it all works out in the end, and it’s immensely satisfying both times.
Saving Marilee is different. It took me a while to warm up to the first two books. It’s not the author’s fault, though. She had compelling characters and interesting dilemmas from the start, but they didn’t speak to me until I got several chapters in and could begin to connect with the characters. Not so with Saving Marilee. From the opening page I was hooked.
The conflict this time isn’t a love triangle. It is about recovering from serious trauma, learning to love and trust again, and filtering out the lies one has been poisoned with about oneself for a long time. Marilee was a bit of a silly girl, kind of like Lydia Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, and, at 19, she married a man she had barely met after spending her life flirting with boys and enjoying a carefree life. It’s not that she was bad, but that she had no inkling of the ugly side of life. Her husband’s gentle façade quickly gave way to a much darker reality. He intended to physically and psychologically torture Marilee by telling his staff and guards that she was crazy.
For the eight months of their marriage, he slowly took away everything that brought her pleasure, from food and friends to horses and parties. She was locked in her room for her own protection, and when she vehemently protested, it was taken as further proof of her madness. A handful of servants recognized the truth of the situation, and they quietly helped her preserve her sanity.
So Much Pain
At the start of the book, Marilee’s husband has just died shortly after a very public fistfight left him mortally wounded, and Marilee is suddenly free to dismiss her evil or complicit staff and then struggle to rebuild her life. All of the horrors of her life are presented in flashbacks, which I’m grateful for because I wouldn’t have been able to take it all in without knowing that it was already over.
But I find the pages get blurry and my eyes begin to water as page after page of Marilee’s unjust suffering unravels.
- It hurts seeing her flash back to memories of her joyful life before she married a monster.
- It hurts watching those flashbacks turn blacker little by little until all light is extinguished.
- It hurts knowing that she has a horrible scar on her neck, but being in the dark with her about how she got it.
- It hurts witnessing her frail attempts to recapture her sense of normalcy after being abused and beaten down for nearly a year.
- It hurts observing her attempts to get everyone to refer to her by her royal title, not the patronizing pet name her husband branded her with.
- It hurts hearing her react viscerally to compliments when they contain certain words her husband had used to describe her.
- It hurts when she fears moments of happiness and lightheartedness because she used to be punished for them.
- It hurts as people around her treat her kindly and she fears they will turn on her at any moment.
It doesn’t matter what happens to her, good or bad. Everything brings me to tears because she never deserved to suffer so much, and she’s going to endure so much pain as she claws her way back to find peace. I yearn for her pain to end, and the only way to do that is to push through it to find the happy ending.
Easy to Relate
My brain understands that this is fiction, and no one was actually abused in this case. But my heart still aches as I read Marilee’s tragic story because it rings true. She is gaslighted at every turn by her husband, her servants, her guards, and even inadvertently by her family. Only a handful of people around her actually believe she’s not insane or exaggerating her plight or otherwise creating problems for herself. There’s no one she can turn to for relief from her suffering, so she turns off her emotions and hides inside herself.
In a small way, I can relate. I was never abused as a child, but I was bullied at school quite a lot. I tried escaping into myself, but I found that I was quickly becoming self-absorbed, and I thought my suffering made me special. That made it extremely difficult to let go of my pain and anger. Not being a victim meant I needed to be responsible for my own actions, which was a terrifying prospect. It was much easier to blame others for my personal failings, allowing my pain to fester and my social skills to stagnate.
When I learned to let go of my bitterness and look for the good in others, I found myself being surrounded by good kids, not the bad ones I was used to. We usually get what we expect to get out of life because that’s what we’re actively seeking. If we think the world is ugly, we’ll only see ugliness. If we tame our expectations, we’ll acknowledge the bad while focusing on the good. And then we’ll be free to be happy and wise without being pleasure seeking and naïve.
I had more than one opportunity in my younger life to romantically pursue young women who showed an interest in me. But, in most cases, I could tell early on that I wouldn’t have been a good fit for them. Either they were too needy, or I lacked an essential quality they were looking for. Something about each relationship made me recognize its fundamental flaw and imbalance, so I managed to escape before breaking any hearts. I used to think I would never marry. That is, until I met the perfect woman for me, who I courted for three years before finally marrying her.
How I See Marilee
Seeing how Marilee’s husband revealed himself to be an evil manipulator after pretending to be a perfect gentleman makes me all the more grateful to be who I am. What you see is what you get with me. I try to treat everyone equally well, and I wear my judgments and feelings on my sleeve. If I had held onto my victim mentality, I could have become manipulative or demanded that people feel sorry for me. That would have been a recipe for disaster for any relationship I might have had. Not only would it have made me a manipulator, but I would have attracted other manipulators.
Perhaps what brings me to tears as I read Saving Marilee isn’t so much about myself as it is thinking about my wife. She’s not exactly the same as Marilee, but she is equally courageous and good. When we were first getting to know each other, my wife had all sorts of barriers of propriety that I kept unknowingly breaking when I would hold her hand, put my arm around her, hug her, and just love spending time with her. It reminds me of Marilee’s interactions with her neighbor, James Sutton. He keeps showing up to try to help her and because he’s obviously in love with her. She’s fighting her feelings for him, but I think they’re perfect for each other.
My wife feared falling for me too fast, much like Marilee and James. She wanted to show that she could accomplish great things on her own and be self-sufficient in some ways before she would devote herself to spending the rest of her life with me. We’re better off for it. I couldn’t imagine her marrying a man who would hurt her or demean her in any way. I think that’s what hurts the most about Saving Marilee. It feels like an alternate universe in which my wife married a cruel man who wanted to tear her down. I’m lucky she married me.
An Incredible Start
As I noted, I haven’t finished reading Saving Marilee. There are a lot of mysteries I’m eager to find answers to. Right now, Marilee is talking to one of her older sisters who used to be cold and prickly, but who has been beaten down by the events of Missing Lily into a much humbler frame of mind. I love that these two damaged souls are finding solace together in their quest for absolution and healing.
I trust that the rest of the book will be as enjoyable as the beginning, and I encourage anyone who might relate to Marilee’s plight to check out this wonderful book. Just be sure to have lots of tissues on hand.
[Author’s Note: This is one book I couldn’t put down, and I finished reading it shortly after I wrote this article. There was a character (which showed up after the point in the book I had gotten to when I was writing) who absolutely infuriated me. But he did serve an important purpose in the story and he proved to be a useful addition and major challenge to Marilee’s healing. In the end, I shed many more tears on this emotional rollercoaster of a book, and I give a huge endorsement of Saving Marilee. It’s an extraordinary read!]
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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If you’d like to support the Deja Reviewer, please consider donating a few dollars to keep this site going strong. I’ll even send you an original joke if you do! Try it, and prepare to enjoy a good chuckle.
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