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Deadly Behavior
By Dee Sullivan
ISBN: 0-9754803-2-4
Review by: Melissa Flicek

06/06/05

Dee Sullivan’s first novel, Deadly Behavior, seeks to expose the ugly reality of domestic violence in America. While this is an honorable task, the novel often falls short in its realistic approach to giving this population of abused mothers and children a voice. Sullivan loses sight of her goal by fantasizing the plot to the point of disbelief, providing unrealistic solutions and distracting calls to faith, and creating inconsistent characters.

Deadly Behavior opens with a graphic scene of father and central character John Harrison, sexually molesting his teenage daughter, Lisa. This scene is one of the most powerful and realistic in the novel and is the turning point which motivates Lisa to run away from home sparking the plot. In the beginning of the book, Lisa is presented as a strong character that leaves home and eludes detection by her father for several months. However, it is shortly after this that the novel becomes caught up in a fantastical tale filled with drug trafficking gangsters, murdering thugs, alcoholic mothers, demonic doctors, cowboy detectives, and a champion pastor. It is here that the goal of enhancing awareness about domestic violence becomes lost in the shadows of the novel.

Another aspect of the novel that detracts from the main focus of domestic violence is the overshadowing voice of God. Through the course of the novel, Lisa (and her abused mother) somehow find God in their lives, and trust in Him to save them. Sullivan seems to create Lisa’s experience in a mental institution at the hands of a demonic doctor as a test of her faith. The text is laden with religious overtones that are almost distracting for the reader. God is called upon to serve as a solution to everything from experiencing and causing violence, murder, molestation, alcoholism and incest. If the larger purpose of the novel is to provide knowledge about and solutions for victims of abuse, this seems unrealistic. While an individual’s faith can provide a feeling of support, a victim of abuse, alcoholism, or rape needs more than just the comfort of their faith to recover. They need community resources, social structures, and a judicial system they can call upon. Sullivan also seems to derail her own message of faith when she allows the mother, Marie, to be murdered. Her death is not unrealistic (as many abusers do murder their spouses), but it comes as a result of her trust in God and advice from her pastor to try to stick with her abusive marriage and make it work.

One of the strongest examples of inconsistent characters in this text is John Harrington. From the very beginning of the novel, Sullivan paints John as nothing short of a monster – a rapist, child molester, propagator of incest, murderer, drug trafficker, wife abuser, sexist, corrupt political nightmare. Throughout the entire novel, Sullivan does not allow him the depth as a character to make him capable of anything humane. However, in the end she wants us to believe that he is reformed. In a stunning moment of clarity during an interaction with a child at a battered women’s shelter, apparently John’s life is reversed. He admits his faults, and in a stunning show of bravery gets the city to fund a battered women’s shelter (keep in mind, he has battered, raped, and molested his daughter as well as abused and killed his wife) as well as single-handedly brings down the ring leader in a drug trafficking ring (which he is a part of) and saves his daughter from the demonic doctor (that he put her in the hands of so she wouldn’t go public with her rape and ruin his political career). And it doesn’t stop there. Lisa forgives her dad (for repeatedly abusing her and killing her mother) and his jail sentence is drastically reduced because of his aid in the capture of a drug lord and his supposed repentance for the rape, abuse, and murder of the women in his family. Sometimes abusers do get off easily in the courts, but the “reformation of John Harrington” is not necessary or believable in the context of the story.

In short, Sullivan’s first novel starts out very strong, but loses its focus along the way. I applaud her efforts to bring more attention to the very real crisis of domestic violence in America, but feel that, rather than doing it justice, her novel fantasizes it to the point of disbelief, which does not help expose domestic violence at all, but rather propagates the idea that “stuff like that doesn’t really happen,” and if it does the abuser really isn’t to blame. I challenge Sullivan to write a second novel that strives for a more realistic portrayal of domestic violence coupled with information on the law’s shortcomings in this area. With Sullivan’s career in law, it seems that this type of book would better suit her expertise.

 

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