Mary Bell: Love and Tragedy
by Musa Shihadeh
URLink Print and Media

"At eighteen years old, she was the abused daughter of an alcoholic Kentucky preacher and a coal miner. He was the sophisticated international entrepreneur, a chemical engineer."

Love at first sight is a universal fantasy that seldom produces a happy ending. That's the core message of Shihadeh's book, a hard-punching memoir that provides no escape from this biting truth. The narrative is set in the early 1960s. The story chronicles the life of Mary Bell, a young woman who's been abused by her father in the days before she meets the author in a Detroit diner. Shihadeh is a successful businessman in a dead-end marriage. When the two meet, sparks fly. He thinks he's just found his princess, while she believes he's the knight that's come to rescue her from the past. These first happy days culminate in a marriage with children. But that's where the fantasy circles back to reality, and Mary Bell's demons return to devour their relationship.

Told in detached and almost matter-of-fact prose, the author's book is a cautionary tale that speaks to broad truths. For example, many chance connections are not real, and what people think they see is really not there. Instead, it's only a manifestation of what one wants to happen. Shihadeh's story also bears a secondary message: men who fall in love with abuse victims must be willing to fight right alongside their partners. The scars from childhood abuse don't disappear when a woman gets married. Contrarily, episodes of post-traumatic stress disorder often resurface after marriage, with PTSD creating destructive behavior patterns that replace love with hatred. Men who marry abuse victims must be willing to confront these realities head-on while helping their partners find pathways to treatment. Shihadeh's memoir shows what can happen when one allows love at first sight to blind judgment.

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