The Wacky Man, by Lyn G. Farrell, recounts in painful, vivid detail the childhood of Amanda, whose vicious father took out his anger and frustrations on his children with a cruelty it is hard to comprehend. The story opens with Amanda talking to her ‘new shrink’, trying to piece together the fractured memories of her past. It is a past filled with fear, yet the bruises she carried were as nothing compared to the emotional damage endured. The beatings she suffered hurt from the outside in. The barrage of words which bombarded her both at home and at school cut from the inside where they festered, damaging the goodness that should have been nurtured.
Amanda’s father, Seamus, came from Ireland where he had a large and sprawling family, many of whom never accepted his English wife, Barbara. He worked in a factory and was regarded as hard working and jovial, seen to be providing a good home for his wife and twin sons. He put up with the banter about his background, taking home the resentment he felt at how he was treated by his peers.
Barbara also resented how her life had turned out. She rarely intervened when her husband beat their young children in the name of discipline. They lived a life on edge, always fearful of Seamus’s violent reaction to the slightest provocation.
As the youngest child, Amanda was born into a family already suffering. She was a noisy, demanding baby but started off wanting to please. She absorbed her father’s cruel taunts, his kicks and fists. Her mother appeared impotent, often drugged up on medication. Despite references to social services, nobody seemed willing to act in the best interests of the children.
The unfolding story is told from Amanda’s point of view but never descends to the style of a popular misery memoir. It is a first hand account of an abused child, their thoughts and feelings, dreams that morph into nightmare. Each incident is recalled as a snapshot from a troubled life, the detail told in a manner that is factually shocking but never gratuitous.
Amanda’s treatment over the fifteen years narrated leaves her damaged beyond anything imaginable. It is hard to see how it could be allowed to happen, yet this too is explained. When the father owns the house and provides the only income how is a woman to leave with three young kids and survive? In the competitive environment that is school, children are inherently cruel to one another. When kindly teachers try to help a pupil who is physically violent and abusive, who turns on them for reasons they cannot comprehend, how much can they practically do? Amanda saw many psychologists but struggled to tell them what they needed to know. Adults and children talk different languages.
It is hard to avoid blaming the wider family for not doing more but perhaps this was a product of the times. These were staunch Catholics, church going people who would frown upon marriage breakdown. What went on behind closed doors was rarely regarded as any business of those outside.
The extent of the damage being wrought was not understood. A story such as this can help counter such ignorance by laying out in raw and harrowing detail the full effect of childhood abuse, emotional as well as physical.
A searing, challenging tale written not to engender mawkish sympathy but rather to promote understanding. This is a stunning, agonising debut from a talented writer.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Legend Press.