Helen Slavin’s The Stopping Place is a horror novel, at least for women readers. It isn’t terrifying at first. The first part of the novel is unsettling, sure, especially as protagonist Ruby starts to become a vigilante for women who have problems with men who don’t listen to the word “no.” But when the second part, in which Ruby reveals where she came from and why she is so profoundly afraid of men, that The Stopping Place turns into a story so chilling that I had a hard time getting through it. Thankfully, the ending (not to say too much) delivers justice for Ruby and other women victimized by men.
When we meet Ruby, she is a library assistant in an unknown British city. (I only know this book is somewhere in the UK because of the vocabulary. Ruby is awfully fond of the word “claggy.”) She lives alone. She does not cultivate friendships. Instead, she watches people. In her role as voyeur, Ruby watches her coworker Martha’s relationship begin to turn violent. It’s clear she doesn’t want to engage, but Ruby masters her fear to fight back on the behalf of other women in her circumscribed world. Her successes, however, mean that her ex-husband tracks her down.
In the second part of the book, Ruby finally reveals her story. This part, I’ll say again, is very hard to read. Imagine trigger warning stickers all over the place for domestic violence, sexual violence, and emotional abuse. The second part probably goes on too long, if I’m honest. And yet, some of it is very necessary showing the emotional life of women involved with controlling, violent men. These abusive men are reasonable at first. They’re sexy, too. But, the longer the relationship goes, the reasonableness turns into a pot of emotional boiling water: little things are dismissed, larger things are explained away, and the biggest things must be coped with because the abused person has no way out.
The best part of The Stopping Place is the ending. During the first part, when Ruby-as-librarian digitizes and catalogs the papers of a Victorian photographer and searches for a missing laundress from the photographer’s estate, I didn’t see how any of it added to Ruby’s story. It was interesting, but it wasn’t until the end that I finally twigged to this subplot’s purpose. When it hit me, I saw how The Stopping Place is, over and over, a story of women pushed into uncomfortable or dangerous positions by powerful men (physically or otherwise) and hit their breaking point.
In spite of the difficulty in reading about physical and emotional abuse, I liked this book. I’m a big fan of a book about extrajudicial justice anyway, especially when the vigilante is a woman. I also enjoyed Ruby’s strange, new life and the way she gets little revenges on people who wrong her. The Stopping Place is a challenge, but I found it very much worthwhile.
I received a free copy of this book from the publishers via NetGalley for review consideration. It will be released 12 November 2017.