Friday, July 14, 2017

Sad story plus wretched writing equals missed opportunities...

Ever since I started reading it, I have been itching to write my review of Social Taboo: A Male Victim of Domestic Violence Speaks.  I finally finished reading Richard Cassalata's 2016 book about twenty minutes ago after struggling with it and thinking it would never end.  I didn't realize it when I started reading this book, but Social Taboo is 578 painful pages in length.  I would guess at least 150 of those pages could have been omitted.  Add in the fact that Mr. Cassalata apparently never had this book edited or even read by a literate friend before he published it, and you have a recipe for a former English major's nightmare.  

As you might guess from this book's title, Social Taboo is a non-fiction account of a man's experience with an abusive woman.  The author, who refers to himself as Rick, writes that in early January 2011, he had been looking online for a relationship with a woman.  Rick is a divorced father of three boys who lives in Arizona.  He has not had much luck with online personal ads.  Evidently, many of the responses he gets are porn solicitations.

One night, Rick gets an email from an attractive woman named Amy.  Amy lives in Eloy, which is evidently a crime infested, yet very rural, area.  She's a teacher in her mid to late 30s at the time, having earned teaching certifications in Ohio and Arizona.  She invites Rick over and asks him to bring with him a bottle of Grey Goose vodka.

Although Rick is not much of a drinker, he complies with Amy's request and drives out to Eloy.  He and Amy hit it off immediately, although Rick is slightly alarmed when Amy pours herself a generous measure of vodka mixed with cranberry juice.  Although he says nothing to her at the time, it soon becomes apparent that Amy has a serious drinking problem.    

Rick, who is in the midst of earning his teaching credentials, finds that he and Amy are able to talk shop.  However, besides talking about their work, Amy also talks about her past relationships.  If you know anything about women with cluster B personality disorders, you know that there are already a couple of red flags popping up during this couple's first meeting.  

Rick describes Amy as witty, charming, sweet, friendly, and very attractive.  He writes that they "clicked" from the get go.  And while it may not be the smartest thing for him to have done, during that first date, Rick and Amy are consummating their brand new relationship between the sheets on Amy's bed.  Unfortunately, Amy neglects to tell Rick that she has contracted oral herpes, which Rick incorrectly identifies as a sexually transmitted disease.  Yes, it can be transmitted sexually, but what Rick is referring to is the same virus that causes cold sores.  In truth, most people have been exposed to the virus that causes oral herpes by the time they are adults.

Things move quickly, as they often do in relationships with women who have cluster B personality disorders.  Pretty soon, Rick and Amy are inseparable.  Rick gets approval to work with Amy-- she actually becomes his supervisor as he's picking up training hours at Amy's school.  Yet another red flag is raised, but Rick is apparently oblivious to it.  Soon, they're talking about marriage and it's not long before Rick moves in to Amy's home.  When he's living with her, Rick discovers that Amy's drinking problem is a lot more serious than he'd first realized.  Aside from that, she is extremely possessive and resents it when Rick plays racquetball with his buddies on Saturday mornings.  He comes back from the court to find Amy completely obliterated after she's consumed way too much Grey Goose vodka.

Rick soon finds himself deeply entrenched in his relationship with Amy, who seems to be having a hard time letting go of her ex husband, Jim.  She claims that they need to see each other because they are filing their taxes.  Rick isn't happy about Amy's continued visits with her ex, but he tolerates it until it becomes clear that Amy is doing a lot more than discussing taxes with Jim.  But when Rick confronts Amy, she goes batshit crazy.  It's not long before Amy enlists local law enforcement in her bid to control Rick.  She even talks him into handing over his paychecks to her.  Again... a classic red flag of an abuser.  

It turns out that Amy is also kinky.  She has a collection of sex toys and wants Rick to use them on her and be her "Dom", that is, sexual dominant.  She uses sex to make up with Rick after their epic fights.  All I can say is that Amy must have been one hell of a lover.  Rick falls for her tricks over and over again, just like Charlie Brown does when Lucy Van Pelt offers to hold the football for him.  I don't actually have anything against kink.  However, it's pretty clear that Amy uses kink as a means to control her men.

Throughout the book, Rick refers to the interesting array of jobs he's held in the helping profession.  He claims to have been a law enforcement officer, a social worker, and a teacher, both at the college and school levels.  However, Rick doesn't really give readers a full accounting of his academic pedigree.  This was one of my many complaints about Social Taboo.  As I was reading Rick's story, he would mention his academic background, but in vague terms.  I myself have master's degrees in social work and public health, so he caught my attention when he wrote about his sociology degree, but then referred to himself as a "former social worker".  

First off, social work and sociology are not the same thing.  Secondly, while Rick may have worked for child protective services at one point, that would not make him a social worker.  Social work is not synonymous with child welfare work.  Moreover, having earned my degree in social work, I know what goes into getting that education.  I was perplexed by Rick's vast array of careers.  He's supposedly only 35 years old at one point in this book.  It takes time and money to become a qualified social worker or teacher, particularly at the college level.  And yet, Rick has apparently been a social worker, a teacher, a professor, and a law enforcement officer.  I question how much experience he would have had in those fields and how he managed to earn the appropriate credentials.  I'm not saying he's outright lying, but it would have been helpful if he had explained that a bit more.

My next complaint about this book is that it is way too long.  I see an earlier paperback version of this book comes in at over 700 pages.  This edition, which has a different title, is almost 600 pages.  A lot of those pages should have been edited out because much of it is repetitive minutiae.  At one point in the book, I was sure I had to be at least halfway through it.  I was dismayed to see I had only read about 25%.  I eventually found myself skimming because it was very repetitive and taking much too long to finish.

And finally, my biggest complaint about this book is the shitty writing.  Cassalata has a rather conversational style that could be engaging if not for all of the typographical errors, awkward sentence constructions, dangling participles, and wrong word choices.  Seriously, there were some errors that were almost laughable.  For the sake of this review, I'm going to find a few of the more memorable ones.

"After leaving my house, I purchased a big cup of coffee at a nearby convince store."

"They're just did not seem to be a happy medium in any decision concerning her in weeks."

"Ferrous, I walked out of the classroom without acknowledging Amy's existence."

"I fucking hate you for that... you sun of a bitch!"

"Since you are freeloading off me and living in my house you will respect me you sorry sun of a bitch."

"Arriving home, Amy was gone and it was a welcome relief."

"Noticing the sun setting we walked out of the restaurant and Amy held my hand out the door."

The book is absolutely saturated with mistakes like the ones I've posted.  When you have to get through 600 pages, it becomes very tiresome to run across so many errors.  More than once, I contemplated giving up on the book.  I also had to fight the urge to rant about it before I managed to finish.  Imagine... this man, like his psycho ex, Amy, are teachers.  No wonder so many people homeschool.

Don't get me wrong.  I think it's good that Mr. Cassalata was willing to share his story.  I wish more male victims of relationship abuse would speak out; that way, people like Bill's ex wife might brought to justice for the havoc they wreak.  I just think that if you're going to go to the trouble of writing a book about your experiences, particularly the very personal experiences the author writes of, you should make sure the writing is of good quality.  It's asking a lot to ask readers to wade through almost 600 pages of explicit writing about abuse.  The least that author could do is make the writing worth the effort and as easy as possible for the reader-- particularly given that readers often have paid for the book.  I see Cassalata's paperback version is selling for about $25.  I would be pissed if I'd spent $25 on this book as it's written.

Anyway, make no mistake about it.  Rick Cassalata got himself entangled with a psycho.  I empathize with him.  A lot of what he wrote about Amy is eerily similar to stories I've heard about Bill's ex wife, right down to the weird sex, financial abuse, and irrational rages.  Bill was fortunate in that his ex wife had a fear of government interference, so she never called the police on him.  However, she did do a lot of the other things Amy did... and, oddly enough, Bill's ex used to live in Arizona.  I hope things are better for Rick now.  I see at the end of his book, he's got links to men's rights organizations.  I, personally, have no issue with that, but I would imagine that if a lot of women read this book, they might.


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