Seeing Myself Reflected in Diane Marie Brown’s Black Candle Women #SOL24

March 7, 2024

black candle women by diane marie brownFor book club we recently read Black Candle Women by Diane Marie Brown, and I had the weirdest experience reading the book. For one thing, I definitely saw myself reflected in one of the characters, which doesn’t always happen, but isn’t that big a deal. I mean, it’s happened before that I’ve related to a fictional character. So that’s not out of the realm of possibility. No, the issue is that I related to the character and I didn’t like what I saw. And! More than that, I actually was on the side of the type of character that usually annoys me! I mean, seriously.

Okay, let’s back up. There have been exactly three times when I felt like an author/writer was killing me softly with a portrayal. The first is, of course, Dorothy from Golden Girls. Sarcastic mama’s girl? Sure. I wasn’t an English teacher yet when that aired, but I am now so there’s another check in that box. I’m also perpetually single so check to that too. Then, there was Orange Mint and Honey by Carleen Brice, a book about a woman who leaves grad school and lives with her sober alcoholic mom. I related on a spiritual level to main character Shay. Cool. The third was, of course, my girl Elsa from Frozen. “Let It Go” could be my anthem. Also fine.

My daughter told me I remind her of Marlin from Finding Nemo. Because he’s a control freak who wants what’s best for his kid and wants to keep him safe, I guess. Okay, I’ll be that. She also said I’m like Henry the dad from Psych. Henry takes everything seriously and has a son that treats everything like it’s a joke, so he rolls his eyes a lot and tells his son to be serious and pay attention. Yeah, a little annoying, but the love is there.

All of these characters are fine to me. I don’t mind relating to them. You know why? Because I feel for those characters. I want them to be happy, to get what they want. So, yeah, okay, they’re a little prickly or whatever but the people (characters) who bug them bug me. The characters who get on their nerves get on my nerves.

But that is not the case with Black Candle Women. In this book, Victoria (one of the main characters) is clearly the character who I am most like. She’s in charge, has tasked herself with keeping the family/finances/everything together. She is the primary breadwinner, she’s a therapist (by trade; I have a lot of people confide in me or seek out of my advice), and she’s a single mom. You know what else she is? She is completely rigid and insufferable. She always thinks she’s right (and she usually is, at least a little bit), and she can make the people around her feel stupid and small, that there’s nothing they can do right and that they have to earn her trust and affection.

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Slice of Life is a writing challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers.

I found myself so angry with her. Like, girl. UNCLENCH. Leave that baby alone. Give your sister some credit. Listen to other people sometimes. You won’t die if you don’t get your way or if somebody does it differently. Et cetera.

Which means I found myself empathizing with the people who had to live with her. Which means the book was deeply uncomfortable to read, and–other feelings about the book’s plot aside–made me want to stop reading.

The good news is that I am not as rigid, etc as Victoria, but I definitely saw the ways I could be and even perhaps used to be before I started working on myself. I saw clearly how that kind of behavior could be abusive even as it is well meaning.and even if the person is right. I remember talking to a friend a while ago, telling him how I was (am) usually right about what people should or shouldn’t do or how they should or shouldn’t behave but that it didn’t matter because it didn’t serve my relationships. It was, in fact, a kind of smugness and arrogance that was extremely off-putting and probably (definitely) even cost me some relationships.

So, yes, books can be mirrors and windows, but I think in this case I would have preferred a window rather than a mirror.

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  1. Fran McCrackin

    Wow, I am a bit blown away ! I enjoyed how relating to those different characters in sit com, movie, books reveal parts of you and your life. And then, the honesty of this last character and how she made you reflect!!! I’d say that just being able to see this and write it demonstrates so much work you have done. Finally, your last line is a great way to end the piece. So well written.

    • Akilah

      Thank you! And, yes, it is good to see the work I’ve done on myself because this uahotr so clearly showed an alternate version of me that I am not interested in at all.

  2. Darren

    Ooooh, this is super real and thoughtful. “I found myself so angry with her. Like, girl. UNCLENCH. Leave that baby alone.”. That all caps hits hard, I can hear your inner monologue.

    So much to unpack here about relating to a character and then realizing all the ‘spot it, you got it’ going on. Appreciate this and it provoked a lot of thinking about which book characters annoy and which ones draw you in – and what that says about ‘us’ as readers. Thanks for writing and sharing!

    • Akilah

      Yes, definitely big you spot it, you got it. I did not like that at all.


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