'Acts of Desperation' by Megan Nolan
Have you ever been in a truly toxic relationship? The kind where you compromise yourself and do things you hoped you would never do? Where you lose yourself so thoroughly that you can't even remember who "yourself" used to be? Where your partner and you bring out the absolute worst in each other and find ever-escalating ways to cause each other pain? Where after a time you're not partners at all, but mutual combatants and your "relationship" is the war?
In 'Acts of Desperation', a young woman whose name we never learn falls under the spell of Ciaran, who when she first meets him, she pities. He is so extraordinarily beautiful, she wonders how it must be to move through the world like that and imagines that his beauty makes him fragile. But Ciaran is not fragile, he is emotionally distant, sometimes cruel and obsessed with a former girlfriend whose specter haunts the relationship that he and the main protagonist are beginning to build. But what also haunts them is the main protagonist's inability to figure out who she is in this relationship where she perceives Ciaran as having all the power while she has none. Gradually, she disappears from her friends and normal activities, and even from herself as she dedicates all her emotional energy to nurturing the fragile bond she and Ciaran have.
The novel moves in two parallel timelines--during Ciaran and afterwards when the main protagonist is recovering and reflecting on the painful and disastrous eventual end of the relationship, and the path she took to get there.
This was an uncomfortable read, because of the ways in which the main protagonist increasingly debases herself just to be in a relationship that does not serve her. But also because if you've ever been in a relationship with someone who feels slightly out of your league, you may have done some of the same things she does, or at least thought some of the same self-erasing thoughts she does. And when the relationship--and novel--ends, you feel wrung out and relieved and want only to forget any of it happened. The insights about the power dynamics between men and women and the way it can make women feel are stunning in their accuracy, like someone pried open your brain and spied on your thoughts.
Recommended for lovers of literary fiction, upmarket women's fiction, and poetry.