So… domestic violence.
We are all peripherally aware of its unfortunate existence.
Especially when we read truly horrifying news reports like this.
Then we smile and celebrate the triumphs of stories like this.
But when it comes to repeated, cyclical abuse, we tend to,
- Educate ourselves for two hours via the latest Lifetime Original Movie; or
- Be cynical and blame the victim with thoughts such as, “Sure, the abuser is wrong for abusing and all, but the victim should have just left after the first time it happened, right? At least after the second time, for goodness sakes! Just follow the directions here!”
The realities of this ongoing societal plague are oh-so-much-more complex than either of the above sheltered attitudes, which author Swati Avasthi demonstrates in her absorbing debut novel, Split.
Thankfully, she avoids the stereotypical portrayal of an abused family as being poor with an alcoholic father. (From personal experience that I will not detail here, I can guarantee you that manipulative, controlling, abusive people know no socio-economic boundaries.) Avasthi also brilliantly manages the task of not making Split sound like a drawn-out PSA for the majority of the novel.
Avasthi accomplishes this by making the protagonist and narrator, sixteen year old Jace Witherspoon, a typical smart-assed teenager. While he’s spent his life suffering under his sadistic father, a powerful Chicago judge, he still has school, soccer, an ex-girlfriend, a potential new girlfriend, his older brother with whom he has been recently been reunited, AND an unforgivable secret.
So instead of being a “generic YA [character] with a Problem That’s Not Really a Problem in Real Life™” (™Sarah), Jace is a complex YA character with Problems (multiple) that are Really Problems in Real Life.
Of course, his father’s abuse is at the forefront of Jace’s problems. The “Honorable” Judge Witherspoon’s fearsome temper and emotional machinations make Jace’s mother believe that the fear she knows as a battered wife is better than the fear she would know as a woman alone, always looking over her shoulder for the man who has threatened to kill her time and time again. Jace’s older brother Christian is the opposite, having made his escape six years prior to the start of the novel.
Then there’s Jace himself, with emotional torments galore. Torn between wanting to save his mom or staying in relative safety with Christian, to whom he flees at the beginning of the novel. Torn between embracing a renewed relationship with his brother, and his bitterness at Christian for abandoning him to their father all those years ago. Torn between his unforgivable actions prior to leaving Chicago, and the better person he works towards becoming in New Mexico.
Ultimately, Split is a story of the potential for redemption. Can what has been split ever be pieced back together again?
After reading Split, I believe the answer is, thankfully, sometimes. But heartbreakingly, not always.
Verdict: Highly recommended, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to read.
FNL Character Rating: The tumultuous but poignant relationship between Tim and Billy Riggins.