Book: “The Violence” by Delilah S. Dawson
Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, February 2022
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description: A mysterious plague that causes random bouts of violence is sweeping the nation. Now three generations of women must navigate their chilling new reality in this moving exploration of identity, cycles of abuse, and hope.
Chelsea Martin appears to be the perfect housewife: married to her high school sweetheart, the mother of two daughters, keeper of an immaculate home. But Chelsea’s husband has turned their house into a prison; he has been abusing her for years, cutting off her independence, autonomy, and support. She has nowhere to turn, not even to her narcissistic mother, Patricia, who is more concerned with maintaining the appearance of an ideal family than she is with her daughter’s actual well-being. And Chelsea is worried that her daughters will be trapped just as she is–then a mysterious illness sweeps the nation.
Known as The Violence, this illness causes the infected to experience sudden, explosive bouts of animalistic rage and attack anyone in their path. But for Chelsea, the chaos and confusion the virus causes is an opportunity–and inspires a plan to liberate herself from her abuser.
Review: Thank you to Del Rey for providing me with an eARC of this novel via NetGalley.
As this seemingly never ending pandemic goes on, there has been a pattern in my reading and other media consumption that has been consistent: I have been having a hard time with anything that has to do with mass illness and epidemic plotlines. It has tainted my reading experiences, it has made me put off shows I would normally be interested in (“The Stand”? “Station Eleven”? Not right now, thanks!), and I just don’t want to think about it in my reading or viewing things. So when “The Violence” by Delilah S. Dawson ended up in my inbox, I was hesitant. I eventually relented, expecting it to be an entertaining but probably difficult read.
But apparently all a pandemic story needs for me to be completely and utterly in love with it is professional wrestling?
Okay that’s not the only reason that I absolutely adored “The Violence”, but it was definitely one of many lovable aspects of this angry, snarky, and highly entertaining pandemic book. Dawson has created a scary virus mythology that she tackles with suspense, humor, and believability as to how it would unfold, given everything we’ve seen in the past two years. A strange virus causes people to completely disassociate and turn lethally violent, and we follow three generations of women in one family as they experience this new disease through the lens of their own experiences of victimhood and generational trauma. Our first is Claudia, a housewife who has been in a picture perfect but deeply abusive marriage to her nasty husband David. The second is Ella, Claudia’s oldest daughter who has seen the pain her mother has gone through, has protected her younger sister Brookie, and has found herself in a similar relationship with her seemingly wonderful boyfriend at school. And then there’s Patricia, Claudia’s narcissistic mother who is in her second marriage as a trophy wife and lives in privileged wealth. When The Violence strikes, and Claudia sees a potential out from her abusive marriage, all three have their lives change dramatically.
And I loved all three of these characters in all of their well rounded, complicated, and messy glory. Dawson explores all of them and all of their depths, and she has created strong, sometimes maddening, always relatable characters who I ended up caring about very deeply. I also loved how she draws out explorations of trauma and abuse and how victims of abuse find themselves in terrible cycles that they can’t escape from so easily, and how that in turn can make them do things that are harmful. It’s all so sympathetic and raw, and even when I thought that I was going to feel one way about a character, Dawson would surprise me with how I would end up feeling about them. I loved everyone in this book. I loved all of their journeys, be they literal ones or ones within themselves, and how they all changed and grew. And yes, without spoiling too much, I will say that Claudia ends up as part of a pro wrestling league during her storyline, so she absolutely became Betty Gilpin in my head during my time with this book.
And what of the Violence itself? I really enjoyed this virus mythology in this book, as Dawson creates something that feels as scary as it should without becoming overwrought with aspects that would make it ultimately untenable in a real world setting. The transmission of The Violence, the way that people try to study it, the things they discover about it, and the way that the public reacts to it all feel correct after all we’ve seen these past few years dealing with COVID. Dawson doesn’t feel a need to over explain, but she does find ways to make it seem believable in terms of transmission and origin, as well as how society would deal with it (there is a whole plot point about vaccine hoarding and how the privileged can deal better with pandemics than lower income people can, and man oh man do we know that that’s absolutely correct after everything). And while it’s all dark, it’s also supremely entertaining. As our characters find themselves in dangerous situations, and they certainly do, the tension is always on point and is paced in a way that it reads quick while still keeping the reader into what is coming next. There were plenty of moments where I was on the edge of my seat, and the tone definitely goes to twisted places, but still inspires a lot of hope. And I absolutely needed that hope in this story, since hope has felt hard to come by in the face of the inevitability of Omicron. Seeing these relatable and likable characters find hope in the hopelessness really, really resonated.
“The Violence” is my first 10 read of the year. It’s phenomenally entertaining and cathartic in this moment. Just great.
Rating 10: So. Much. Fun. Not to mention twisted, hopeful, and cathartic.
“The Violence” is included on the Goodreads lists “Anticipated 2022 Horror/Thriller Releases”, and “Books Containing One of the “Clue” Game Weapons On the Cover Or in the Title” (I had to, the concept is too good).