Who I Was Before – Denise Black
Who I Was Before is a tricky book for a man to critique considering the premise is a story of a woman, a mother, a wife, and the difficulties in balancing home life with young children, a husband and the mounting struggles to find liberation and personal space. It would be tactless to make an assessment of the emotions and stresses involved, although from my perspective of having five children I can empathise somewhat with the often unappreciated pressures in the mother’s role in many families. Denise Black provides an authentic observational view of a normal life managing the simple tasks of dealing with three young typical children.
Tess is the mother, married to Jack, with young children, Abby aged seven, Benjamin is three and Skylar the baby is one. The unrelenting daily routine, with little adult conversation, baking muffins, and long exhausting days, drives Tess to make a dramatic decision. She leaves home to go to the store leaving Jack watching the children and just keeps going. Possibly a nervous breakdown but she drives until she runs out of fuel and seeks a bed and breakfast for the night. There she meets Betty with her sage advice and deep psychological insights of what torments a stressed mind. As the stay extends the relationship between Tess and Betty is carefully developed and illustrates the need to often seek help and assistance from others.
The early chapters are a slow burn but the decision to up and leave her children completely threw me and I could not reconcile myself to the way the story turned. What surprises me is the lack of discussion between Tess and Jack about the building levels of exhaustion and anxiety. Furthermore, it is difficult to empathise with Tess and her hardships as she has just left Jack with all the problems she faced, plus his added challenge of holding down his job, plus the distress of having his wife up and leave with no initial idea of what happened her. It is, however, a story of self-discovery, facing the raw emotion of parental stress and deciding what life lies ahead.
I experienced this novel as an audiobook, gifted from the narrator – Marnye Young. I have enjoyed several of her narrated novels and it is always a pleasure to listen to her bring a story to life. I would recommend this as a book of women’s fiction and it will connect well with many mothers and readers that enjoy family drama.