Some things cannot be unremembered. Such is the case with Tom Daly’s memoir of love gone really, really bad. Readers will doubt if the events that take place could actually be true and this is the epistemological crux of the endeavor. One begins to think that the Marquis de Sadian undercurrent serves as a metaphor for a cryptic something else: unbridled obsession, ecstatic passion, the Romantic Ideal, but at book’s end we fear it is not and take the account for its word.
And the words are shocking to mildly put it. What unveils through the course of the narrative is a Manson-esque torture scenario that is artfully explicated. We never clearly understand why the antagonist, Carol, does what she does. All we do know is what she inflicts on the author without ever completely getting at her raison d’etre.
This fact is a bit unnerving. She, as a character, remains an enigma. A femme fatale for sure, she warps the mind and emotions of our very reliable narrator to the point to which we palpably feel his pain and, like the victim, are not sure exactly what to do with such suffering.
The setting is 1970s [San Francisco] East Bay – specifically the ’burb of Concord, and the milieu is one of a sort of post summer-of-love youth culture who are trying to define meaning in the open-book phase of American history. What results is their struggles somewhere between romance and angst and California’s interpretation of bohemianism turns out to be an exercise in no-holds-barred cruelty. And there is no attempt to follow Shakespeare’s dictate that includes an element of kindness.
As far as the form itself is concerned, the memoir reads more like a novel. There is little reflection in a philosophical memoirist sense that attempts some learned perspective concerning the twisted love story. Readers will be either perturbed by this or will welcome the dry, matter-of-fact reportage of a remembrance of what even might be termed mental rights violations. The story unfolds with great honesty and Daly’s voice is remarkably one that is not tinged in bitterness or retribution. That just might be the unspoken lesson learned.
Part psychological thriller as the dust jacket indicates, part murder mystery without a literal murder, Don’t Make Me Cry is a tale that proves for an eternity that the weirdness of our society often apexes in the sunny little corners of suburbia. In fact, the book has a distinct Blue Velvet feel to it – like Lynch’s film, the monstrosity in Daly’s book arises subtly and cloaked in the outer guise of normality.
This book is an unsettling, nightmarish, yet concurrently calm and lucid account of what perhaps is the scariest of all terrors: the trust we have in a loved one violated and morphed into utter madness with the insanity distilled in both the victim and the perpetrator’s mind as some form of diabolical love.
Philip Kobylarz is a Freelance Writer and Cultural Critic in the San Fransisco Bay Area. His work has appeared in Paris Review, The Iowa Review, and Best American Poetry. His first book, Rues, from Blue Light Press of San Francisco is now available on Amazon.