I have just finished reading Jane Green’s book, Saving Grace. Jane used to write bubbly, funny, reasonably sophisticated “chick lit” type stories, but increasingly over the past several years her novels have tackled serious topics and she would be considered now as writing in the “women’s fiction” genre.
Saving Grace details what happens to Grace Chapman when her renowned author husband, Ted, hires a new assistant, Beth, who ingratiates herself to her boss, the job, and their family life. Slowly but surely Beth absorbs Grace’s roles in the community, in the literary world as Ted’s trusted partner, and finally, personally with her husband and within her home. She does that by “gaslighting” Grace and leading everyone into thinking Grace has a serious mental condition, a type of bipolar disorder.
The more drugs Grace is prescribed the more docile she becomes, gaining weight and becoming lethargic. Grace is at a loss, given her passive state, to assert her misgivings about her diagnosis and about Beth. In literary conventions, “gaslighting” comes from the 1940 play/film Gaslight in which a husband attempts to convince his wife and others that she is irrational by deviously affecting the small details of their life and convincing her and others that she is incorrect or her memory is wrong and that she is indeed going crazy. Here, through her manipulations, Beth sets a clear path to supplanting Grace in her happy life.
Here’s the official trailer for Gaslight, just to give you the idea:
But back to the novel: I got about this far in the story and almost quit! Honestly, Grace seemed like such a patsy. I just wanted to scream at her – “wake up!” And then the story shifts. In a shocking revelation Grace finds the courage to act, to find herself, and to reclaim her life. The process of reawakening saves Grace, and makes for a most entertaining story of redemption.
“The stolen life,” per se, is a theme found in all types of stories. Here are a few more that I thought of:
In Lisa Scottoline’s Think Twice, Philadelphia attorney Bennie Rosato’s evil identical twin sister, Alice Connelly, drugs her and leaves her to die, buried alive in a remote farm. Alice takes advantage of her physical resemblance to Bennie to assume her identity and to gain access to her job, her wealth and, eventually, her ex-boyfriend. Bennie’s survival depends on her own cunning and her ability to outwit a master-manipulator, her own flesh and blood.
Having a life to be envied, Jo Slater, is married to a billionaire, with multiple homes, an enviable art collection and a respected place in New York society. Then it is all gone in a flash with her husband’s sudden death and the revelation that his will designates a pretty young protégé of Jo’s as his beneficiary, leaving Jo with nothing. By hook and by crook, Jo uses her smarts and her connections to get her revenge and restore her life. A clever, cynical tale, Social Crimes, by Jane Stanton Hitchcock, is a page-turner.
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith gives us Tom Ripley, a young American who is commissioned by a wealthy industrialist to get his jet-setting son, Dickie Greenleaf to return home from his wastrel life in Europe. However, Ripley finds himself very fond of Dickie and especially of Dickie’s lifestyle. Indeed, he wants to be like him–exactly like him. So, Ripley, a sociopath, stops at nothing, including murder, to succeed.
Finally, there’s the whole basis of the TV series Mad Men, in which Korean War soldier, Dick Whitman takes over the life of fellow soldier, Don Draper, who was killed in battle, to put his abusive childhood behind him, reinvent himself, and to become one of the top creative advertising executives on Madison Avenue in the 1960’s.
Can name some other stories where the grass is greener?