Fighting for Family is a story that has provoked very strong reactions in readers. This story was completed before I ever posted a single chapter. I made no changes to it as a result of reader comments.
Some readers couldn't get through the first few chapters; feeling that it was overly violent in an emotional sense. Every character, with the exception of Claire, was blamed for the problems within the family. Much to my surprise, this included the boss and his wife. John was a lazy ass who failed to step up to his obligations as a husband and a man. Vicki was a bitch who ditched her family. The kids were spoiled rotten brats. The reverend was a sadistic bastard who got his jollies off while watching David rant at his mother. The boss pulled her away from the family without regard to the effect of all that travel. The boss's wife stole the lifeline from Victoria by supplanting her, thereby leaving Vicki with no choice except to face her family.
Other readers wrote that they couldn't read the story without reliving their childhood. Emotional scabs that they had thought long healed had been ripped off without warning. Their notes were filled with so much raw emotion that it hurt to read them. I read them anyway.
Many readers wrote that they or their spouses couldn't remember their wedding vows. There is a whole genre of stories about spouses who are not faithful. Few stories are about cases where the other vows are forgotten. Why is that? Is it because we feel that loving, honoring, cherishing, and obeying are not as important as fidelity? Or is it because infidelity is easily proved while failing to uphold the others is not? I fear that there are many who can not remember their wedding vows. I think if we look around us, we can see the consequences of that in the form of broken marriages and dysfunctional families.
Many readers told me that all John had to do was show Vicki a bank statement (he had, but she had ignored it) and things would never have developed to the point that existed at the beginning of the story. Never underestimate the ability of an obsessed person to ignore all evidence that contradicts the subject of his or her obsession. Just look at an underweight girl who believes she is fat despite the fact that she looks like an Auschwitz survivor.
Let me tell a true story about a couple I knew in which the wife obsessed over her coffee pot and whether it was plugged in whenever she left the house. This was back in the good old days of electric percolators. She would not leave the house without checking the coffee pot at least a dozen times. Her husband would start to drive off and she'd jump out of the car (even while it was moving) to check the pot one last time. He'd get to the end of the street and she'd try to get out of the car again. Once she was away from the house, she would call a neighbor to check it. That stupid coffee pot was an obsession.
She and her husband argued about it, often in public. On a couple of occasions the husband even carried the coffee pot out to the car, but that didn't stop her from returning to the house just to check that it was the real coffee pot he had brought with him. No one could convince her that the coffee pot wasn't plugged in.
One day the husband lost it and grabbed the handle of the coffee pot beat the hell out it on the counter until the handle broke off. Then he drove over it with the car just to make sure that it would never work again. Nearly every neighbor, myself included, watched him flatten it with the car. A lot of us were laughing about it because we thought it was funny. Everyone knew about her obsession and his anger over it. For the couple, though, it was not funny. There were tears and hurt feelings. They got over it in time. However, he never allowed another coffee pot in the house.
We aren't talking rational behavior. Now, I'll admit that I had this woman in mind when I was writing this story. I've seen things that were nearly that extreme with people and their jobs. I've watched men and women park their family on a back lot in pursuit of their careers.
A relative of mine would leave a party to make a three hour business call. He would drive off while talking on his cell phone leaving his family behind without a ride. He literally would forget them when there was an opportunity to make some money. It should be noted that he's been divorced and is working on his second marriage. He still puts money ahead of family although he has tempered his behavior a bit.
A co-worker visited my house one weekend. He called his office voice mail three times an hour. Nearly every discussion was interrupted when he would stop to check his e-mail on his cell phone. I worked with him and I knew that there wasn't a real reason for him to be doing that. His wife got so angry that she grabbed his cell phone and threw it in the street. The cell phone survived with just a cracked face. Their marriage may not.
I'm not saying that the story presented here is a good way of going about fixing a problem in which one partner is obsessed (to the point of a major psychosis). In this story, one woman has effectively trampled on the feelings of four people for a long time. How does one go about fixing it? In most real life cases, she'd have been kicked to the curb. That doesn't solve the problem - only the symptoms.
I consider Vicki to be a heroic figure. Her family is dumping on her. She is getting hurt -- horribly hurt. It even gets worse in later chapters. However, she keeps getting up and trying to get past their anger. She is a fighter.
If we were to change the story to where it was five outsiders trying to destroy her marriage, then the pain and suffering that she experienced in trying to save her family would be essential to a heroic story. We would be rooting for her to win. We'd be hoping the bad guys lose.
In a way, there are strangers in this story -- the angry people created by the past. There are Rose and Rosie, David and Davey, the John who hates Victoria and the John who loves Vicki, and then Lisa who hates her mother and the insecure Lisa who wishes she had a loving mother. You might say that her mission is to figuratively slay the John who hates Victoria, the Rose whose thorns are poisonous, the David who is about to turn into an angry young man, and the Lisa who hates her mother.
Then there is Vicki and her alter-ego, Victoria. Here's an interesting thing, Vicki overcomes Victoria with the simple act of disposing of her cell phone and leaving that life behind. She goes on to confront her other enemies. She weakens them by withstanding their assaults without defending herself. She offers love and understanding instead of violence. What a powerful weapon that is.
Finally, there is Reverend Billings, whose qualifications to be a man of the cloth are questioned by everyone. He's an odd sort of reverend who doesn't preach the normal sermon. He even appears to be more interested in a lingerie catalog than the fact that a young girl has beaten her mother.
No, he's a different sort of man who believes that you can't ask for forgiveness until you understand what you are asking the other person to forgive. The road to salvation is a rocky one and not without pain. He doesn't quite think things are as easy as asking for forgiveness and all will be forgiven. Forgiveness easily bought is worth little. The value of something is the price a person is willing to pay for it.
He believes the path to hell is tempting because it promises that all problems will be solved without pain. It is seductive because the true cost is hidden until it is too late. We all march through life with one foot on the path to hell. It doesn't matter if it is lust, greed, gluttony, sloth, wrath, envy, or pride that tempts us. We are tempted just as each member of the family was tempted. Vicki was led astray by pride and greed, John by sloth, David by wrath and sloth, Rose by wrath, and Lisa by envy.
It was not an accident that the family was canning apples at the beginning of this story. Apples are the fruit from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. There is a lot of discovery about the nature of good and evil taking place in this story. Each character is forced to examine the demon that lives inside him or her.
The move from a suburban house to the country was also not an accident. A home in the suburbs gives rise to images of houses, white picket fences, barbecues in the backyard, and a happy family living inside - a little mini Garden of Eden. That image should give us pause. Perhaps the Garden of Eden wasn't all that perfect, but Adam and Eve were protected from discovering that until they lost their innocence. Maybe, just maybe, leaving the garden wasn't a trip from a paradise however artificial, but was a trip to a natural world in which the best that resides within us can be demonstrated by overcoming adversity - a world in which heroism is possible.
Yes, I do believe that Vicki is a heroic figure.