Fran Benedetto has been hiding a terrible secret for years, but when her husband, Bobby hits her so hard he breaks her nose and splits her lip, she knows she has to leave. Patty Bancroft, a famous women’s advocate, knows exactly what to do to help women like Fran. So Fran trades one secret for another and leaves New York with her ten-year-old son, Robert, to start a new life with a new identity in a secret place.
Black and Blue takes a hard look at the complicated dynamics in abusive relationships. Bobby and Fran had once been young sweethearts, and there are still traces of attraction between them. Bobby has a volatile temper. She never knows what will set him off, and for undefined reasons, she takes his abuse. In a strange triangle of denial, Bobby, Fran and Robert fall into a pattern, determined solely by Bobby’s moods.
Fran (now Beth) and Robert begin their new life, with the constant worry that Bobby will find them. And they soon discover that it’s hard to break ties with the past. Robert misses his father and Beth misses her sister and, as time passes, even Beth becomes more reminiscent of their little family, and of Robert’s father.
I enjoyed reading Black and Blue because of the complex problems between Quindlen’s characters. She also asks, will the son become just like the father? These important points show how hard it is to break out of an abusive relationship. And when there are children, it’s nearly impossible to make a clean break. In addition, Quindlen gives Bobby a voice, showing his take on their marriage, a man whose twisted desire for control over his wife often includes confused feelings of love and devotion.
While these are compelling issues, I had trouble getting to know Beth’s new friends, including love interest Mike Riordan, because their personalities and actions are unremarkable. Some one dimensional side characters, especially Cindy Roerbacker and Mr. and Mrs. Levitt, seem forced. Stereotypical names, such as Robert’s Cuban friend, Bennie Castro, also take away from the story.
The danger of being found, however, carries the plot to a surprising finish. I think the finish makes the story stronger because it makes you realize that you never know what someone will do.
Black and Blue is a fast and light read about an important subject.
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