The initial paragraphs of the chilling novel “This Little Family” are the most gripping I have ever read. The beginning sentences reflect the ending of the book, so you know the ending from the start; but that won’t keep you from wanting to discover every detail that leads up to the conclusion of Ines Bayard’s completely mesmerizing story.
Marie and Laurant have a perfect life. They live in an apartment in the middle of Paris, they have jobs they love, and they are excited about their plans to have a child. Both of their families share their excitement as the couple prepare for their new life. Marie is thrilled with the prospect of bringing a child into their world, a world that’s comfortable and free from strife. She imagines moving to a lovely home with a yard but still within the city limits of their enchanting location.
When the CEO of her company offers Marie a ride home she is viciously assaulted in the car by this powerful man. As she leaves his vehicle, she determines to keep the abuse a secret from her husband and others. She doesn’t want her experience to alter the course of her life and that of her husband’s. She believes that it would only be the CEO’s word against hers, and that no one would believe this pillar of society and industry could have done what he did.
Her silence affects her life immediately. She cannot stand the attention of her husband, but hides her feelings. She goes to dinner the next evening with friends, one of whom is a gynecologist who makes fun of women who claim they were raped when they certainly were “asking” for it. The doctor mocks the women who “lie about their assault” to try to convince him to perform an abortion. He assumes they just don’t want to live up to their duties as mothers.
Marie’s behavior grows stranger each day. She no longer cares for the daily rituals of her life with her husband, a life that gave her such comfort and filled her with love. Her parents and siblings note her behavior but never ask her what has changed; they feel sorry for Laurant.
When Marie finds out she is pregnant, her world caves in even more. She feels nothing for her unborn baby and believes he is the result of her rape. When the baby is born, her disgust grows. She leaves her baby in daycare as long as the center will let her. Her husband remains oblivious even as he, as a lawyer, represents a famous man in a divorce that includes accusations of his abuse of other women.
The author of this book offers a reflection on the power of men before the “Me, Too” movement. It sadly portrays the guilt women may feel after an assault even though it seems ludicrous to others for them to have these feelings. The story describes in searing detail how these particular crimes ruin lives to the point of no return.
As difficult as “This Little Family” was to read because of its description of Marie’s harrowing descent, I believe it does what good books do. It creates understanding and helps readers develop empathy for others who face unforgettable life-altering experiences that are not uncommon in our culture.
This is Bayard’s first novel. It was translated from French by Adriana Hunters.