I don’t normally read short stories and novellas, but when this book came to my attention the timing and subject matter seemed too coincidental to pass up. Each of the five stories stood alone and yet remained connected through an overarching theme. I have no doubt that these novellas will be relatable to almost anyone, even if they haven’t been the victim of a manipulative personality, as we have all come across at least one at some point in our lives.
Title: Manipulated Lives
Author: H. A. Leuschel
Publisher: Self Published
Publication Date: June 8, 2016
Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Short Stories
Themes: Abusive Relationships, Independence, Manipulative Personalities
My Rating: 4/ 5
Five stories – Five Lives.
Have you ever felt confused or at a loss for words in front of a spouse, colleague or parent, to the extent that you have felt inadequate or, worse, a failure? Do you ever wonder why someone close to you seems to endure humiliation without resistance?
Manipulators are everywhere. At first these devious and calculating people can be hard to spot, because that is their way. They are often masters of disguise: witty, disarming, even charming in public – tricks to snare their prey – but then they revert to their true self of being controlling and angry in private. Their main aim: to dominate and use others to satisfy their needs, with a complete lack of compassion and empathy for their victim.
In this collection of short novellas, you meet people like you and me, intent on living happy lives, yet each of them, in one way or another, is caught up and damaged by a manipulative individual. First you meet a manipulator himself, trying to make sense of his irreversible incarceration. Next, there is Tess, whose past is haunted by a wrong decision, then young, successful and well balanced Sophie, who is drawn into the life of a little boy and his troubled father. Next, there is teenage Holly, who is intent on making a better life for herself and finally Lisa, who has to face a parent’s biggest regret. All stories highlight to what extent abusive manipulation can distort lives and threaten our very feeling of self-worth.
Whew! I needed to take a break after reading this one. Although the stories are short, they cary a heavy impact, with each showing a different facet of master manipulators. Each of the protagonists are so unique and well defined that the tales never run the risk of sounding like they are repeating one another, and of the five I was most touched by Holly in The Runaway Girl. Of all the characters, she is the only one who likely wasn’t old enough or worldly enough to know that such people could exist. My heart really went out to her, especially since she was dealing with trauma in her romantic life as well as at home with her family.
Tess and Tattoos, The Spell, and The Perfect Child also demonstrate the ways in which manipulators work their ways into people’s lives, how they select and control their victims, and also the lasting impact that these encounters can have. The stream of consciousness style of writing really highlights just how easily certain behaviours become normalized, and how common it is for victims to defend their abusers. Finally, it was a shocking experience to read from the abuser’s point of view in The Narcissist, mostly because I could never view another person as an object or disposable. Of the five, this is the story that made me the most uncomfortable and I think forces the greatest degree of introspection when it comes to our interactions with others.
It is clear that a great degree of research went into the creation of these novellas as each character was so well defined and believable. I think that this would be an excellent selection for book clubs as there is so much to talk about. And, knowing full well that I will likely encounter push back from some parents and colleagues, I am strongly recommending the study of The Runaway Girl in our school as it touches on topics that seriously need talking about and not brushing under the rug.
Would I recommend this book? Certainly, but I do so knowing that it won’t be for everyone. It makes you uncomfortable in the all right ways, but I can see that there would be some readers where the reliability of the characters will hit too close to home.
P.S. This is Leuschel’s first work of fiction, and in having seen how her characters turn out, I would be first in line if she ever put of psychological thriller – that would be dark and twisty stuff!