Book of the week: Crazy Love by Leslie Morgan Steiner

The 10 small bruises on Leslie Morgan Steiner’s neck were hardly visible on the day she got married. Her new husband, “Conor,” had left them there five days earlier, when he grabbed her by the throat and held her against a wall because she had uttered a complaint about their new computer. Steiner was a writer for Seventeen magazine. She knew the right thing to do was to call a domestic abuse hotline. But when she drew a busy signal on the first try, she didn’t follow through. Nor did she rescue herself at any time over the next three years, when Conor punched her in the face, threw her down a set of stairs, or put a gun to her head. In fact, Conor walked out on her first.

Steiner’s “compulsively readable” account of her nightmare first marriage dares readers to ask: Why didn’t she leave? said Kim Hubbard in People.The young Harvard graduate didn’t fit the stereotype of a trapped spouse. Raised in privilege, she had the means to support herself, and the couple had no children to worry about. Crazy Love suggests that it’s easy to understand why women in her position find it difficult to walk away, but that’s wrong, said Linda Hirshman in Steiner’s mention of being “kind, insecure, and desperate for intimacy” isn’t enough. Democracy is built on a communal assumption that individuals, no matter how “kind” they are, “can be trusted to look after themselves.” Our tendency to absolve spousal-abuse victims of any responsibility for their plight smacks of “the soft bigotry of low feminism.”

That’s cold, said Katha Pollitt in The Nation. We know a lot about why battered women stay with their husbands. Conor and men like him “are good at isolating their partners from friends, family, and other sources of support and help.” Read Crazy Love carefully, and you’ll notice that it makes “painfully clear” an additional dynamic that hasn’t often been written about. We see Steiner failing to break away from her batterer “because she pities him and wants to rescue him from his demons.” Women are like that; they see themselves as caregivers. The ones who are in trouble don’t need “moralistic lectures masquerading as feminism.” As Steiner points out, they need people around them to be courageous enough to help.