Sunday, May 31, 2015

Her Sweetest Downfall by Kellie Wallace - a picture of pedestrian brutality and moral ambiguity

Say hello to my friend and fellow-writer from down-under, Kellie Wallace. 2015 has been a productive year for her. One of her recent releases is a historical novel set during WWII, Her Sweetest Downfall.

The synopsis
At the height of the London Blitz, Viola Craft, a sexually repressed young woman is trapped in a loveless marriage to her God fearing husband Vernon. She spends her days working in her mother's dress shop while Vernon pulls the dead from the rubble with his rescue crew.

Their marriage is turbulent and Viola feels pressured to bear a child. After failed attempts, Vernon believes she's barren and alienates himself from their marriage.

One night during an air raid, she meets alluring German born Kristoff Richter. They make an in-stant connection. He's young, good looking and emphatic. They embark on an illicit affair that leads to tragic consequences.

My thoughts
I am delighted to finally see this work in print. I had the pleasure of reading the early draft, under a different provisional title at the time, and I had no doubt that this novel would eventually find a home with a publisher who would not be so concerned about sticking the novel into one particular niche. The cover is overtly erotic, tastefully so.  I'm thankful that it's handled in a blue-grey color scheme. Full color covers featuring naked lovers definitely belong in the erotic romance section, and Her Sweetest Downfall goes beyond that genre.

In genre fiction, characters are more black and white.  Their actions are a little too consistent with their beliefs.  Genre fiction relies heavily on stock characters and situations, generic conflicts with generic resolutions.  In psychologically authentic fiction that is more reflective of real life, people's actions are often paradoxical. Morality is very conditional and fluid - very much like human loyalty and affection.

As a critical reader who focuses on the form and style, I appreciate the skillful juxtaposition of universal, impersonal evil, which is used as a back splash in the novel, and the pedestrian, trivial, everyday acts of brutality that people commit against each other. The cliche assumption is that war brings people together and makes them set their personal petty differences aside. And it's true to some extent that the character do engage in activities to benefit their country.  Still, that doesn't stop them from abusing those closest to them. They risk their lives rescuing victims of bomb raids, and then they resume cheating, raping, beating and insulting. Take Vernon, the husband of the female protagonist Viola's, a man who digs through debris with his own hands to look for potential survivors, and then comes home to make his wife miserable. Every tyrant has a pathetic side. Vernon carries around a bundle of insecurities regarding his masculinity, his ability to sexually satisfy and/or impregnate his wife.  He views divorce as a great sin, yet that does not stop him from taking a mistress and trying to start a family with her.  Another example is Lori, Viola's friend, who mourns the death of her infant love child in France, "Losing a child destroys you" - after having terminated three previous pregnancies.

Still, the most contradictory character is Viola herself. Even after falling for the charms of a German-born milkman, she is not too hasty to sever the ties to her boorish husband. Having allegedly found the love of her life, she still hesitates to make the final leap, so for a while she ends up sitting on two chairs.  Interestingly enough, her state is far from agonizing.  In a way, she enjoys the duplicity of her situation and the uncertainty of her unborn child's paternity.  In a traditional romance novel, the heroine would be tormented by guilt and barely tolerating the bedroom duties with her husband.  However, Viola learns to derive pleasure, excitement and a certain sense of empowerment from her duplicitous sex life. For once she understands what cheating husbands experience. In Her Sweetest Downfall, the author exposes the glorious hypocrisy of human nature.

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