Thursday, December 11, 2008
Taming the Beast by Emily Maguire
"He said that I had proved to him that resistance was pointless. He said that there was nothing left to protect us from each other anymore. We've crossed the line.'"
I had heard too much about this book--both good and bad--not to pick it up at Barnes and Noble when I saw it, especially after it had been dubbed the new Lolita. The title, of course, is a nod to Shakespeare and his reference to sex as being the beast with two backs. Literary allusions are an important part of the novel, as our young and twisted protagonist Sarah is seduced by her 38-year-old English teacher who baits her with the likes of Donne, Carew, and Dante. Not long after their violent and terrifying affair starts, Mr. Carr's wife finds out about it and gives him an ultimatum that takes him far away from Sarah so that his reputation as a teacher, man of God, husband, and father is not shattered by knowledge of his pedophilia. Before he leaves Sarah, however, he takes her out and attacks her so violently and for so long that when he drops her back off at her house she's nearly half dead.
After being abandoned my Carr at 14, a long cycle of promiscuity and recklessness starts for Sarah that leads to things she had never seen coming--such as being raped by two of the few people she said no to and being both emotionally and physically scarred for life in the process. The incident becomes the talk of her town in Australia and her parents more or less force her out of her house before she's even finished throughout high school, leaving her to fend for herself and pay both rent and college tuition with a seedy waitressing job and occasional prostitution. Throughout the novel, her relatively normal best friend Jamie tries to save her--offering her the possibility of a normal relationship until he accidentally impregnates his girlfriend leading him down the aisle and away from Sarah. After her support system has been completely and utterly altered, Carr appears again. With his return, Sarah moves in, cuts ties with everyone she knows, drops out of university halfway through her senior year, and loses her job. Her days are spent in his apartment, memorizing entire books of Ted Hugh's poetry because he demands it, taking breaks only to call him about fifty times a day. She stops eating until eventually she looks like the young girl that she was when Carr found her. Sarah's life is taken over entirely by the man that had destroyed it eight years before.
While I do think this book has several important things to say and has a great deal of literary worth it was difficult to read. Some of the passages were nauseating and cringe-inducing in ways that I had never come across in reading before, mostly due to Sarah's lack of self respect which as a fellow female I find hard to tolerate. Obviously, the scenes between Carr and Sarah were also uncomfortable. The only remotely likable character in the novel was Jamie, who was still capable of doing terrible things. After being Sarah's sole confidant and friend, when she goes to him for help after nearly kiling Carr for trying to leave her to resume a normal life, Jamie is so tired of her and her constant cycle of self destructive behavior and immediate cries for help that like everyone else, he too victimizes her. In the end, it's ultimately Jamie that dies because upon realizing what he has done, he has a heart attack leaving the wife he was desperate to leave for Sarah a widow.
Basically, I still don't know what I think about this book and it's a bit too disturbing to think about any more than I already have.