Power is seductive and blinding. We all relish the idea of having the ability to enact our individual will on the world around us. We are captivated by people that are able to influence their environment in their own favour. We fantasize about doing what we want, when we want and to whom we want. Power is the McGuffin of every major drama. The characters wrap themselves in an intricate dance of plot, force, deception, and domination in order to attain the power they seek. In the real world, this desire to exert some semblance of power is found everywhere from the schoolyard to the United Nations conferences. We want power, even when we don’t understand it or what costs to lose it. The question of power is explored to through the protagonist of Canadian author Robert Mulolo’s Why Me?, a novel that follows a young woman through her various trials and tribulations.
The story begins with Renee, a young woman that seemed to have her life together. She was a student and was in the process of working her way through a post-secondary degree. She was focused, hard-working and disciplined. One evening at the end of her shift at the convenience store job she had held for years, her free-spirited half-sister Maria arrives with an invitation to a night out at the newest hot spot in town. After a lengthy interplay between Maria’s persistence and Renee’s refusal, Renee finally acquiesces to Maria’s pressure and accompanies her to the night club.
At the club, Renee meets Simon (aka Shark), the club’s owner. He is enamoured by her and elects to pursue her affections in a lengthy campaign of romantic gestures. Renee eventually decides to date him, but refuses to sleep with him until she is ready. After several months, Simon grows impatient and in a heinous betrayal of the trust she put in him, he drugs and rapes her. This of course spelled the end of their relationship, but not the end of their interactions. Renee had become pregnant as a result of this violation of her space, but decided against having an abortion. This angers Simon but there is little he can do about it. Some time passes and grave financial misfortune befalls Simon. He loses his club and suddenly disappears, ceasing to pay child support and leaving Renee with the financial responsibility of raising their daughter on her own.
More time passes and Renee meets a new man, Richard. Richard seemed like the romantic type, though not the man of means that Simon was. Things seem to be going well for them at the outset of the relationship, until, like Simon, Richard’s dark side emerges. One night while they slept together, Renee had a flashback, having been afflicted with what can only be described as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of the rape she endured. She snaps out of the episode unable to breathe as Richard’s hands squeeze at her throat. He lets go and apologizes. This however would not be the end of the physical abuse. Renee’s life is further complicated by the unceremonious return of Simon, who has regained his former status and now seeks custody of their daughter. Renee fights him in court. Renee’s lawyer advises her that Richard, her current beau, has a history of dangerous criminal activity, and continued relations with him would result in her losing the case and her daughter. Renee ends the relationship with Richard, but it is anything but a clean break. Richard comes looking for her and the ensuing rancour devolves into a physical altercation that ends with Renee suffering one of the worst thrashing s of her life at Richard’s hands. Despite her best efforts and talent for fighting, she was simply not strong enough. Richard is arrested and another man disappears from her life.
The case for custody of her daughter continues. The conclusion to this legal tug of war is determined by the loss of Renee’s temper with Simons’ new love interest. This woman happened to have been Renee’s arch nemesis since high school. In a fit of rage after having had enough of her sustained campaign of micro-aggressions, Renee levies a severe beating on her. News of this reaches the courts and she loses the case and her daughter.
Time passes again. In that time, Renee finds religion and starts to rebuild her life again. The joy of reconstruction is short lived. Renee is shot in the back during a robbery committed by someone known to her and as a result is paralysed. Whilst she languished in her hospital bed, Renee’s family reveals heretofore hidden secrets about her past, only compounding her woe. A third man, Christopher, who had seen her through her difficulties with Richard now expresses romantic interest. It is later revealed that he was unfaithful to her, a truth she finds out that right before she is struck down by a truck.
Why Me? is a story about power. It examines the illusion of control in which we often find comfort. Even though we all know on some level that our ability to exert our will on our environment is limited, we prefer to pretend that we are unstoppable. Sometimes the consequences of ignoring signs to the contrary can be dire. Much like Renee, we are all full of plans. We have goals, we have ideas, and there are things that we want.
Throughout the story, Renee is in a constant struggle for power over her own life. From high school, to her post-secondary education, and into her adult relationships there is a constant back and forth between her attempts to exercise control and the many unexpected events that seek to wrest it from her. She tries to keep the physical pace of her relationship slow, and she gets raped because Simon was impatient. She tries to make the hard decision of leaving her relationship with Richard, and he beats her violently for it. When she tries to retain custody of her daughter, she loses her temper with Simon’s new love interest and loses the case as a result. Renee’s failed attempts at controlling her environment are many. The more she tries to direct her circumstances, the worse her situation became, even if she was not the beginner of her own misfortune.
Such is the fate of many of the plans we make for ourselves. Car crashes, illnesses, sudden deaths, and any number of unexpected calamities can completely upset what we expect to be the natural order. The more common reaction is to act, to find some way to seize control of the situation and force its independent variables to acquiesce to our demands. The world does not work that way. Each of us is only one variable in a nearly infinite set of causes in motion at every corner of the universe. Instead of seeking to control our situation through brute force, we should seek to understand the factors at play. In the story, Renee seeks to control without understanding. When her former high school bully belittles her in front of her daughter, Renee’s knee-jerk reaction is to pummel her as punishment. She tries to force her into submission without thinking about the consequences, losing the custody battle for her daughter. In much the same way we often think that beating our obstacles into submission is the only way to overcome them.
Not every problem can be resolved by forcing it to conform to our personal visions. Sometimes a more finessed approach is more effective. When we are caught up in the emotion of the moment it can be hard to separate ourselves and objectively assess our position. If we are to succeed in the power struggle between ourselves and the many obstacles to achieving our ends, we must be able to adapt to our circumstances. We must be willing to change not only our actions on the surface, but also the principles that guide those actions. Time and time again throughout the story, Renee tries to punch her way through to her end goal. The results never work in her favour. She found one tactic that worked for her in high school and simply stayed with it, irrespective of the changes in the world that happen all around her as she grew into an adult.
We must be willing to question our beliefs and entertain the possibility that our approaches to life are wrong. If we are willing to do that, then we find a new way to exert control over our individual destiny. Absolute power over our lives is an illusion. Even the best laid plans blow away in the wind because of factors outside of our control. Our real power is in our ability to navigate the obstacles that we face. Understanding this will empower us to make better decisions about manipulating our position with regard to our circumstances for the best possible outcomes. Where there is a will there is a way, and to find it we need understand that we don’t need to knock walls down to see the other side.
Until next time, be good to yourselves and each other.
Adam H.C. Myrie
Buy the book on Amazon:https://www.amazon.ca/Why-Me-Robert-Mulolo/dp/1475937733
Other Reviews: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16252761-why-me
More about the author: https://www.facebook.com/rmulolo.the.author/