________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 9 . . . . January 6, 2006


Dragonslippers: This Is What an Abusive Relationship Looks Like.

Rosalind B. Penfold.
Toronto, ON: Penguin Canada, 2005.
257 pp., pbk., $20.00.
ISBN 0-14-305020-6.

Subject Headings:
Penfold, Rosalind.
Abused wives-United States-Biography.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Darleen Golke.

*** /4


WHEN I MET BRIAN, I fell deeply in love. I thought we were going to have a fairy tale romance. And we did. UNTIL THINGS BEGAN TO CHANGE. I ignored the early putdowns and subtle power plays, and refused to believe what was happening, until I was lost in A QUICKSAND OF VERBAL, EMOTIONAL, SEXUAL, and ultimately, PHYSICAL ABUSE.

I clung to Brian's promises, rather than what I saw and experienced. My DENIAL AND SHAME kept me with him for 10 years. I spent all of my time trying to figure out what I was doing wrong and how I could make things better. I COULDN'T ALWAYS REMEMBER the abuse. There was NO PREDICTABLE PATTERN, and it seemed like my brain erased it because it didn't fit in with my hopes. I didn't want to let go of the relationship - I JUST WANTED BRIAN'S BEHAVIOR TO CHANGE! I thought of myself as strong - like a rock - but in this relationship I became so deeply confused that I BEGAN TO LOSE ALL SENSE OF MYSELF.

People in abusive relationships often mistake intensity for intimacy. It feels intimate because it is SO PERSONAL, but intimacy requires trust - and there is no trust in an abusive relationship. The pattern feels like this: KISS! SLAP! KISS! SLAP! KISS! SLAP!


Written under a pseudonym for the "hundred of thousands of 'Rosalind Penfolds' around the world who will recognize themselves in this story," this graphic novel, combining images and words, focuses on an abusive adult relationship. A "happy, successful 35-year-old award-winning business" woman meets an attractive widower with four children who charms, wines and dines her; she falls in love with the "most wonderful man in the world," but opts not to marry him immediately. His "exuberance and energy," his "impulsiveness and disregard for convention," and his "reckless abandon" mesmerize her, and his children win her heart. Brian pressures her to marry, taking her on lavish holidays, among them a "honeymoon" trip to Greece where the first crack in the perfect relationship appears. Roz, however, chooses to ignore the signs and continues to bask in the glow of his attentions.

internal art

     Brian urges her to ignore her career, her family, and her friends, insisting he and the children need her full attention, and he exerts increasing control over her actions and activities." He seemed to want me to change so much about myself that I wasn't sure I could remember who I was," Roz confesses. "I felt constantly on edge" like "I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop, only I could never see it coming. It was more like a slipper dropping, the slipper from a sleeping dragon." Brian drinks to excess and becomes verbally abusive, but Roz makes excuses for him. Even after he throws her out, then begs her to return, she still thinks, "If I could just be more understanding, everything would get better."

     Things inevitably get worse. Roz discovers Brian's infidelities, and she strongly suspects him of abusing his daughters. His bizarre sexual demands and mood swings further confuse and distress Roz, yet she hangs on until the revelation that Brian has regularly been seeing another woman finally compels her to act. When the women confront him together, Brian physically attacks Roz and she flees; however, when he begs her not to press charges for the sake of the children, she relents. Fortunately, her mother and her friends persuade her to seek counseling; through therapy Roz finally breaks the ten year cycle of abuse realizing that what began as love had turned into addiction and that she must institute changes and rediscover her sense of self. "The most shocking truth of all was not his behaviour, but my own - because I had stayed and allowed this damage to myself."

     Why does Roz, like many women in abusive relationships, stay with her abuser? Unfortunately, logical and intelligent individuals get caught in an abuser's web, losing their self-respect and feeling diminished and devastated. The images and text detail the sequence of events and emphasize the emotional nightmare suffered by a victim of abuse. However, while the reader clearly sees the developing destructive nature of the relationship, the woman or man thus entrapped gradually loses a sense of self and the will to escape. Their very victims permit manipulative and abusive partners to pursue their destructive behavior and ruin lives. Highlighting an abusive adult relationship, Dragonslippers contains explicit sexual material, profane language, and covers topics of physical, psychological, alcohol, and child abuse that may well be disturbing to younger readers. For today's older visually-oriented teens, the graphic memoir technique combining words and sequential art to develop the narrative may produce a greater impact than a purely textual account of the same events. "My brain could rationalize and deny," writes Roz, "but my art went straight to the truth." Although she originally meant the drawings as personal therapy, Roz shares them with readers, delivering a powerful message about the "terrible, long-lasting damage" an environment of abuse creates in a family. "While my drawings give me distance, they give strangers a closer view."

     This cautionary tale and the website, www.friends-of-rosalind.com, sound a warning to young people to pay attention to behaviours that make them uncomfortable, to recognize the signs of a potentially abusive partner, to accept responsibility for making choices, and to seek help when difficulties arise. The website offers "Warning Signs of Abuse" and a few "Links to Helpful Sites." Acknowledging that dating violence constitutes a current social issue, online resources like the Canadian government's "Dating Violence: A Fact Sheet from the Department of Justice Canada" at http://canada.justice.gc.ca/en/ps/fm/datingfs.html and "The National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center" (U.S.) at http://www.safeyouth.org/scripts/teens/dating.asp provide useful and extensive information.


Darleen Golke is a librarian "between assignments" living in Abbotsford, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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