by Cassondra Windwalker, publication date: 23 Jul 2020
Idle hands are the Devil’s playground, and Cassondra Windwalker uses diabolical influence in this eloquent and disturbing portrayal of domestic violence.
Ella is the Devil. They (Ella) is a fun-loving monster, dedicated not so much to evil for its own sake, as to corrupting those who would otherwise be good. Ella works in the shadows of people’s minds, nudging and cajoling, engendering chaos and destruction. To say that Ella encourages evil is to miss the point; They acts out of mischief and spite, for Their own amusement, as a salve to the boredom of immortality.
So, when Perdie decides to escape her abusive and violent husband, and take herself and her children beyond his reach, Ella’s attention is piqued. The husband is a respectable university lecturer, and almost nobody knows of the violence that happens behind closed doors. The children do: they are terrorised and, even though they are young, have learnt to not see.
With her children, Perdie makes her escape. They travel half way across America, to Colorado. She has almost no money and limited skills, and although she manages to rescue herself and her children from her husband, she works two jobs just to pay the bills. So busy is she that she barely sees her children. But they are safe.
A second move to a lakeside, remote town, turns out to be a good move. She meets and later marries a decent man, Reilly. He doesn’t earn the money her former husband did, but he takes good care of her. He constantly reminds her that she doesn’t have to double-guess what he wants but rather can make her own mind up; she doesn’t have to fear that a disagreement will lead to a battering. The children get on with him. Time passes.
And then the accident happens. Ella sees her opening; They offers a deal and Perdie accepts.
That is as much of the plot I will reveal – and it’s the first half of the book. The second half is the Faustian deal that Perdie accepts.
Idle Hands succeeds in combining two themes. The first is the metaphysical theme of the nature of evil. Although Ella is at times a little long winded in Their thoughts – and sometimes is used by the author as a narrator – They is a new take on a problem as old as our species. There are times when Ella is engaging and funny, and times when They is repellent in a very eloquent way.
The other theme is the under-explored theme in fiction of domestic violence. The opening scenes – about the first fifth of the book – is gripping. Perdie’s escape had me on tenterhooks, urging her to get on with it before her abusive husband returned, unsure if she would, fearful of the consequences if she didn’t. It opened my eyes to the fear that many women live with, day in and day out; it made me ashamed to be part of the same gender as Perdie’s husband.
The contrast of Perdie’s life in Colorado, with Reilly, was excellent: the author walked the fine line between portraying a person who has recovered, while not masking that some of the damage is permanent. The eldest of Perdie’s three children was too scarred to recover, but the other two had my laughing at quotidian teenager issues, sympathetically portrayed.
This is all the more disturbing in the second half of the book, which returns to Perdie’s pre-escape life. The constant threat, the fear, the unrelenting shifting or blame and moral responsibility, are depicted with a frank brutality. There was nothing to laugh at, no joy. Only victims – and Ella in raptures.
Idle Hands is a very good book. The characters are people I know, the pace is just right, and the overall effect chilling. Domestic violence is something that is much talked about, but little understood; this is the first time I’ve seen it dissected in fiction. Read it.