What role does Tara’s extended family play in her independence?

Because Tara leads a very isolated childhood, her extended family represents almost the only people she knows outside of her parents and siblings. Because of this dynamic, Tara’s grandparents and aunts are among the first people who show her it is possible to criticize and challenge her father’s authority. In different ways, both her maternal and paternal grandmothers are critical of the way Gene leads his life and raises his family. Her paternal grandmother even offers to kidnap Tara and take her to another state where she can attend school, while her maternal grandmother shows an alternative set of values. As a child, Tara is too young to fully understand what all of this means, but it does leave her with the impression that there might be ways of seeing the world which are different from her father’s point of view. Her grandparents will also applaud her decision to go to college, while her own father disapproves of it. Later, Tara’s aunts and grandmother help her establish independence by offering her an alternative family support system. When Tara eventually becomes estranged from her parents and most of her siblings, her extended family loves and accepts Tara for who she does not ask her to change.

Why does Tara find it difficult to pursue romantic relationships?

There are two primary reasons why Tara finds it difficult to pursue romantic relationships. First, she reacts with shame and disgust whenever a man tries to show her physical affection. When Tara first returns home from college and starts dating Charles, she is curious and attracted to him. However, when Charles tries to touch her, she panics. Her family has made her feel that her body is shameful and sinful, and Tara becomes overwhelmed at the thought of being close with someone.In particular, Shawn has taunted her about the relationship and has always made Tara feel ashamed of herself.

Secondly, Tara tries to hide her history and her family from anyone she dates, and this makes it impossible to achieve true intimacy. Tara is ashamed of her family, and the abuse she is subjected to, and she assumes that if she ever confides in anyone she is dating, he will be repelled by it. As a result, she is always carrying around a shameful secret and her partners get frustrated that she won’t trust and confide in them. First Charles and then Nick are driven away by Tara’s inability to be vulnerable and open with them. Once Drew becomes a steady presence in Tara’s life, she has much more confidence to break from her family and not be afraid of being cast out.

What role do Shawn’s girlfriends and wife play in the memoir?

Shawn displays a consistent pattern of abuse toward every woman he has intimate interactions with. He abuses his girlfriends, Sadie and Erin, and then his wife Emily. He also abuses both of his sisters during the years they live at home as teenagers. Shawn’s girlfriends and wife inspire Tara to stand up to Shawn to believe in herself. Because Tara often second-guesses herself and doubts whether or not Shawn is actually abusing her, these other women play a key role in helping her have faith in her own convictions. When Tara is desperate to have someone confirm Shawn’s abusive behavior, she reaches out to Erin, who agrees with everything Tara says and confirms that Shawn also hurt her. When Tara also witnesses Emily being abused after Shawn throws her into a snowbank on a freezing cold night, Tara realizes that she has not been imagining things, and that Shawn is capable of terrible violence. These confirmations are very important because so many other characters betray Tara and gaslight her. Even if she does not have close relationships with these women, they give her a reassuring sense of her own sanity which builds her confidence to tell her story.


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