Arrow Books, 2007, $19.95 pb., pp. 401, ISBN: 24681097531
If I am missing or dead is a gut wrenching, eye-opening book; and a page turner! It is not fiction, however; it is an account of an all-too-real scenario of how women, even loved, intelligent and successful women can fall prey to men who do them harm: emotional, physical, life-threatening harm. This book is also a dedication to her younger sister, Amy, the much loved baby of the family. No-one knew Amy was in trouble until she went missing.
In retrospect, the signs were there, but it was too late. Amy was dead.
Janine? my sister Jane says. Have you heard from Amy?
He killed her, I say into the phone. That bastard killed her.
The only lead they have into what has happened to Amy is a note taped inside her desk at work:
In the event of my disappearance or death… I fear I have placed myself at risk in a variety of ways…
Janine is a successful, educated woman; a working journalist with a broad view of the world. She knows she is loved by her family and is close to her siblings. She has struggled to put herself through university, scrimping and saving and staying determined. She is a woman who can survive, make do and sustain herself.
Yet she enters abusive relationships; as does Amy. Michael breaks ribs, blackens her eyes, kicks her in the kidney. Then, he cradles her. Oh, baby, he says, I love you so much. Why do you have to go and push my buttons?
Then she meets Kurt.
… he knows I am a battered woman and he wants me anyway. He lights up even though he knows… I can be ugly and I can… make someone so mad that he beats me.
Attentive and affectionate, Kurt is also jealous, demanding and sexualizes his wife. He likes her to dress in mini-skirts, tight tops, stockings and high heels. He even ‘coerces’ her into breast enlargements she doesn’t want, and is often ‘inappropriate’ in public: an unnerving echo of her father.
Amy, too, has experienced a difficult marriage, weight problems and cancer. Even after becoming single, losing the weight and working successfully, loneliness leads her to the net, where she meets Ron Lee Ball.
Meanwhile, Kurt’s behaviour becomes more jealous and erratic. He even leaves Janine on the beach, asleep, letting her dehydrate and burn. He has stalked off… Pissed… Until recently I would have run after him…
Rebuilding her life and self-esteem as a single woman, Janine is on an upward path when she gets the call about Amy.
Hi, sweets, I say. What are you doing?
I’m planting impatiens… I’m using my bread maker, too, she says.
I say, I love you.
Love you, too, she says.
I’ll never talk with her again.
if I am missing or deadis both an honest recounting of love, violence and loss, and a cautionary tale. Abused women, especially if they stay, and they almost always stay, are considered by many as weak, stupid or, in some cases, deserving. This book can shatter those false beliefs. Latus displays her ownership for her actions. Despite being an educated and successful woman, she believes she needs the love of a man, one who obviously loves her dearly despite what he brings to the relationship. She is also not reticent about admitting that she could give as good as she got, at least initially. In time, though, eroded by the constant criticism, opportunistic slurs and emotional blackmail, she succumbs on a deeply psychological level.
Her first relationship with a man, that of her father, is far from ideal and is, in fact, abusive in itself. Latus never falls into a maudlin state of blaming him. She presents her family with a degree of calm and dispassion, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions. This comes from her journalistic skills and is an admirable recounting of some difficulty times and experiences as well as one of love, fun and togetherness.
This journalistic approach, and her consummate writing abilities, give this autobiographical tale an added level of validity and easy reading, to the point of wanting to turn the page rather than turn off the light.
And examples: when anyone in the family phoned Amy, including her mother, Ron would answer the phone and make up some excuse why they couldn’t talk to her, effectively isolating her. He even told her mother that he had killed her and buried her in the back yard. Although it made everyone uneasy, and far from funny, they thought he was only making sick jokes. They could not suspect what would happen.
Highly recommended, especially for those wanting to know the signs of when a loved one is in trouble, but is not telling.
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