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Is our story still making sense? I toyed with the idea of giving you a sequential story, one with a definitive beginning and ending. Would it be fair to furnish such an account? Or is it more accurate to depict those events and recollections as they clumsily unfolded themselves in my memory, disorganised and random? Perhaps we can agree on a middle ground.
This story is told from the perspective of a grieving lover. The events described are related through a one-sided dialogue with the dead woman, whom we are told overdosed on insulin. Characters are rarely named, as the reader is eavesdropping on recollections of a relationship between two people who have known each other for years. Therefore ‘you’, and ‘I’, are the most common forms of address, with ‘father’, and ‘mother’, following close. Consequently when the narrator introduces Karalynne, or Helen, the names stand out, feeling like intrusions into this very personal account of tragedy, a closed circuit of memory.
‘I’, describes how she first met ‘you’, when they were both children and how their close friendship slowly evolved into something more intimate over time. The ‘dead girl’, whose story this is came into the world the lone child of wealthy parents, enjoyed every luxury that money could afford and from an early age was evidently extremely intelligent. What really sets her apart from the person now telling her story, the woman who fell in love with her and never stopped despite the endless arguments, heartache and abuse, is the complete lack of affection in her life. It is made clear that the true downfall of this young woman began with the neglect she endured from an absent father, who valued his social prestige above any sincere relationship with his daughter.
As the narrator struggled to keep up academically with her friend, she finds herself left behind, her companion’s intellectual gifts and competitive drive catapulting here into college at an early age. This separation creates the initial sense of lack that will eventually bring the now adolescent girls together as a couple – but also inspire the unhealthy obsession that will dog them over the years. Enter Karalynne, the third party in this callous love triangle, initially referred to dismissively by the narrator as ‘the room-mate’.
It is at this point that we learn the storyteller’s lover has begun using heroin. Karalynn it is implied has introduced this into her life. What’s more her feelings of self-disgust, born out of an inability to please her father, have led her to begin cutting herself. The narrator is torn between wanting to provide support for her lover and trying to help her move on from this self-destructive behaviour. Tragically the woman relating this story explains how she could rarely say no to her friend, at times becoming complicit in her drug addiction. Submissively acquiescing to her childhood friend’s demands, the dynamic between them always rooted in the initial relationship of one being more knowing and demanding than the other, her enabling behaviour reaches its absolute low-point when she wakes to find her friend injecting her with heroin in her sleep: “Maybe I can try redeeming myself by saying I wanted to know what the appeal was and why the drug held you so strongly. I hated myself for allowing it and being so weak.”
Gwen O’Toole’s book is both an erotically charged doomed romance and an unflinching personal account of a person becoming consumed by addiction. Where it comes to writing I have a simple rule – if I experience the emotion that the author sets out to evoke, then that is a successful piece of fiction. Slow Blind Drive is not an exploitive piece of ‘misery lit’, but a genuinely affecting tragedy. The device of having the spirit of the dead woman be addressed in a persistently conversational manner, with the discussion skipping and jumping through time, makes the experience of reading this book feel intensely intimate. Interestingly a poem by Christina Rossetti, titled ‘Goblin Market‘ figures largely in the book’s latter half. In my ignorance I only knew of the poet from Kiss Me Deadly, although there too Rossetti’s verse is used as a symbol for a doomed woman.
From day to day, as I dive into book after the other, I am often unprepared for what I read. This story left me feeling devastated, but then that is exactly what it should do. Honestly told and heart-breaking.
With thanks to the author for my review copy.