Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Ordinary Women and Mothers as Heroes

I love a gritty thriller, good vs. evil in the ordinary world, and I just finished reading White is the Coldest Color by John Nicholl. It's an easy read, whipped through it in a couple days. The gist of the story: an esteemed child psychiatrist, Dr. David Galbraith, is the virulent head of a pedophile ring. What I enjoyed about the book was the characters. Specifically, the depiction of Galbraith, Molly Mailer, and Galbraith's wife, Cynthia, introduced in chapters 1, 2 & 3, respectively.

Galbraith is portrayed as psychologically and emotionally dependent on his prey. Fueled by his arrogance, this dependence is his motivating force. He comes across as a very weak and shabby person. Which, of course, is awesome, and also truthful. His misogyny is also clearly on display. Which I also liked—not the misogyny, but how the story drives home that women-hating is an essential characteristic of such a monster.


Molly Mailer is the mother of Galbriath's next victim. She's quite the ordinary woman, what with her marriage falling apart because her husband has moved in with "some Tart" and her teenager daughter sneaking out at night and her young son wetting the bed and socially withdrawing as the result of his father's abandonment. Hers is not the glamorous life. But if Molly is anything, she is the "good enough" mother. And this infuriates Galbraith. Molly watches out for her son, and this makes it increasingly difficult for the doctor to assault him. I appreciated how Nicholl showed Galbraith's rage at Molly for obstructing his soul- and life-killing cravings. By simply being herself, Molly inadvertently protects her son from a serial predator who is not even on her radar due to his social veneer.  For this alone, Molly is a hero. However, when Galbraith loses control and physically assaults her, the stakes are raised. She survives and will be the one to definitively identify her son's abductor.

Galbraith's wife, Cynthia is portrayed as the classical abused wife. Transformed into a trembling, obedient figure, she never challenges her husband. Again, the doctor's internal dialogue concerning his wife displays his deep misogyny and arrogance. So when Cynthia rises to the occasion at the end of the story, it's quite satisfying.

Since I've finished the book, I've thought about how much I enjoyed Galbraith's defeat by two women who were—as far as fiction goes—quite ordinary women and mothers. And how those two—quite ordinary women and mothers—were transformed into memorable heroes.

Because of the way the dark subject matter was handled in the book, I wasn't surprised to learn that Nicholl has served as a police officer and child protective officer in the UK. An exclusive interview of Nicholl can be found here: Poetry and Chocolate and Books.