The best novels about women taking back their power from controlling and abusive men

Who am I?

I was raised in a loving but strict Catholic family in the 1970s, when girls like me were still expected to grow up to become traditional wives and mothers, rather than go to college and pursue a career. In a Pre-Cana class intended to prepare me and my fiancé for marriage (it didn’t work so well, as evidenced by our rancorous divorce twelve years later), I learned the concept of “family of origin,” and the profound impact a person’s upbringing has on them as an adult. I became fascinated by the psychic baggage each of us carries around, and how it affects our personal relationships and life choices.


I wrote...

Absolution

By Regina Buttner,

Book cover of Absolution

What is my book about?

When small-town Jeanie goes off to college, a predatory professor takes advantage of her naivete by drugging and date-raping her. Believing she was to blame for the assault, Jeanie conceals the resulting pregnancy from her old-school Catholic parents. She drops out of college, moves away, and marries the first nice guy she meets, in the desperate hope that devoting herself to marriage and motherhood will somehow absolve her from her sins.

But evidence of Jeanie’s previous pregnancy eventually surfaces, and her new husband’s pristine image of her is blown. As Greg’s shock deepens into violence and emotional abuse, Jeanie realizes she must finally confront the trauma in her past in order to save herself from a marriage that threatens to destroy her.

The books I picked & why

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Open House

By Elizabeth Berg,

Book cover of Open House

Why this book?

Samantha is the woman I used to be—a devoted and eager-to-please wife who is an expert at turning a blind eye to the cracks in the facade of her marriage. Getting to know Sam in the pages of this novel was a lifeline for me at a very difficult time in my personal life. I was delighted to see how she opens both her home and her heart to unconventional friends and experiences, and in the process, discovers a surprisingly joyous new life for herself.


Black and Blue

By Anna Quindlen,

Book cover of Black and Blue

Why this book?

This story of a wife’s escape from her abusive husband is harrowing, but it’s ultimately a message of bravery and hope. I felt I was walking around inside Frannie’s body, feeling her pain and the desperation of her situation. Her courage in fleeing her home and taking on new identities for herself and her son taught me a powerful lesson about facing my fears head-on, for the sake of my own emotional health and that of my children. I read this book over a decade ago, but its portrayal of incredible female strength and tenacity has stuck with me over the years.


Not That I Could Tell

By Jessica Strawser,

Book cover of Not That I Could Tell

Why this book?

I once lived in a close-knit neighborhood similar to the one in which this novel is set, and I was entranced by the interplay between the variety of characters in this tale of domestic suspense. The story isn’t so much about the woman who disappears one night as it is about the perplexed bunch of girlfriends who are left behind. I relished the voyeuristic peek into the hidden dramas of the various neighbors’ personal and family lives—it made me feel like I was riding a silent drone through the ’burbs, swooping unseen through kitchens, bedrooms, and backyards, uncovering people’s secrets!


Best Day Ever

By Kaira Rouda,

Book cover of Best Day Ever

Why this book?

The story of a flamingly narcissistic man plotting to betray his wife shouldn’t be funny at all, but Kaira Rouda definitely pulls it off with impressive skill and verve. Husband Paul is so insanely self-centered that I couldn’t stop laughing at the stream of inanities flying around in his egotistical brain as he drives his wife Mia to their lake house for what’s supposed to be the most memorable day of their lives. And is it ever, thanks to Mia’s moxie. You go, girl!


Cleaning Nabokov's House

By Leslie Daniels,

Book cover of Cleaning Nabokov's House

Why this book?

I was afraid this book might be too depressing at first, and kept yelling at the heroine, Barb, to quit feeling sorry for herself and do something already to get her kids back from her domineering ex-husband. But the author’s wry voice drew me in, and this quirky novel is now one of my all-time favorites. Throughout the low times in my life, I’ve found humor to be the best tonic, and bumbling Barb delivers it here. I love how she rises above her seemingly hopeless circumstances by devising a highly questionable but totally kick-ass hilarious scheme to raise some quick cash and reunite with her children. The zany characters and spot-on descriptions of small-town life are guaranteed to boost your mood. 


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