This book is about Kelly Sundberg's very specific experience, and it is so much more. Like Kelly, I grew up in a town of around 3,000 people in Idaho, a place where everyone around me displayed that women existed to serve their men, that the highest achievement is (for god's sake!) not rocking the boat, and that the mistakes of men happen only because the women were too [stupid, lazy, ugly, fat, clueless, ignorant, pigheaded - take your pick] to have prevented it from happening. I, too, found myself in an abusive first marriage, confused about why the rules about relationships I'd learned weren't working.
I read this whole book in an afternoon. The experience of turning the pages was, to me, like meeting a new friend who gets you in a way no one else ever has.
Some people have posted very short-sighted reviews on Amazon - people who were seemingly looking for some kind of rock 'em, sock 'em narrative, reviews that claim the dives Sundberg takes back into childhood and early adulthood are, in some way, departures from the story at hand. I couldn't disagree more. Kelly tells the story not as someone reacting to a bad situation, or as someone with an axe to grind, but rather as someone who is thoughtful and has done the work to understand all of the contributing factors that can lead someone to stay and stand at the ready for more, and more, and more of something painful. To those reviewers, I say, get your voyeuristic hard-on elsewhere. (Or, you know, don't.)
There are many vivid and emotional scenes in Goodbye, Sweet Girl, but the one I can't get out of my mind is one in which Cory, a friend of Sundberg's then-boyfriend, throws an empty can at her feet in her home. When she reminds him it doesn't belong there, and that he should pick it up, he licks his fork and throws it at her feet. "Isn't that your job?" he says. And no one else says or does anything. If I had 300 extra hands and feet, I could not count on them the number of times this kind of bullshit occurred in my experience growing up in the epicenter of patriarchy. It's hard to explain to others who grew up in more balanced areas that these things exist; it is a kind of fiery salve to read it so plainly in these pages. It is a delight to see Sundberg ultimately find footing on the high road (in what appears to be astonishing fairness and compassion) and to find the strength to reject what doesn't serve her and her child.
Toward the end, Kelly uses a wolf metaphor, saying that - at one time - she would have run, but that now, she's staring the wolves down. That writing is her way of doing so. She's breaking the cardinal rule of good girls in Idaho by saying, "Hey, this isn't okay, and we need to talk about it," and, for that, I want to say, Finally. Thank you. I am with you, and I hear you. Bravo.
You can buy Goodbye, Sweet Girl here.
Review by Brandi Dawn Cornelius.
Book published by Harper