The Reader

Why Women Must be Perfect (and The Girl on the Train Book Review)

girl on the train“Women are still only really valued for two things—their looks and their role as mothers. I’m not beautiful, and I can’t have kids, so what does that make me? Worthless.” I’ve always wondered if I’m the only woman who has ever felt this way. At least now I know Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train, has at the very least considered it.

When I was both single and without a particularly impressive career, not one person ever came to me with a twinkle in their eye to ask me, “What types of career successes are you chasing?” However, at least on a weekly basis, I got, “Have you been dating?” “Tick tock! You should try a dating site!” “Don’t you want to have kids some day? If you want to have kids, you really shouldn’t put your career first…”

In The Girl on the Train we become acquainted with two women, Megan and Rachel. At first, they seem to be as opposite as opposite could be—Megan is beautiful and slender; Rachel is fat and slovenly. Megan is sharp and successful; Rachel takes the train into London each day to pretend she wasn’t fired months prior. Megan has a gorgeous home and a handsome husband. Rachel, in contrast, says “It’s been a while since anyone touched me with anything approaching tenderness.” Megan is actually strikingly similar in my mind’s eye to Amy from Gone Girl. I’m not sure which of the two is more of a train wreck (pardon the pun!)—Megan or Rachel.

As we get to know the two women, we learn that they are actually quite similar. Both feel the weight of the pressure to be perfect, and yet deal with it in different ways. Rachel’s pain is all on the surface—she turns to alcohol and stops taking care of herself. Megan, on the other hand, hides her pain away, causing it to build and build in pressure until she has an affair and is ultimately murdered by a lover.

I really believe that as women, we’re saddled with much more pressure than men.

There’s the pressure to look perfect and pin-thin all the time. There’s a pressure to be “together,” with everything organized and planned perfectly. There’s pressure to have a personal trainer so you can talk about while showing off your toned calves, eat elegant meals so you can Instagram the photos, and travel to exotic places so you seem worldly and cultured. Don’t even get me started on Pinterest and the Martha Stewart-esque craft mania we’re supposed to recreate. (Disclaimer: I love Pinterest.)

And, of course, there’s pressure to have a picture-perfect family.

When we see women without these qualities and achievements, many of us are quick to judge. But at the same time, we HATE women who actually achieve this state of perfection.

In the rush to try to achieve more, we often forget to ask ourselves an important question: “Do I even WANT to be perfect?”

“Would I rather eat my ice cream and be a little rounder than go without, only to STILL fall short of the fitness levels of other women in the room? Would I rather spend my weekends with Mr. Perfect, or stuck behind my computer in pursuit of a career that will probably not end up as I imagine anyway?"

Do I hate Rachel from The Girl on the Train? I definitely dislike her. But extreme dislike is hard when there is so much about her to be pitied. It’s easier to hate Megan, because she at least has options, and she’s choosing wrong.

“I’m frightened and I don’t want to have to think,” Rachel says at one point. She’s so weak its painful. Part of me wants to tell her to sack up, put down the bottle, and get a frickin’ job. The other part of me wants to hug her and say, “I know exactly how you feel. Let’s snuggle and eat some ice cream!”

Perhaps the defining line is that Rachel has nobody in her life who finds her interesting, and she simply isn’t capable of becoming interesting on her own, so she inserts herself into someone else’s interesting story by force. Megan, on the other hand, is plenty capable. It’s laziness keeping her from finding a hobby or choosing a path for her life. That laziness eventually chooses the path for her—a path ending in death.

I keep searching for that line. How do we know the difference between trying—being un-lazy—and being so un-lazy it kills us? I’m not sure.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.


S. M.

Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape

I have exciting news to report! The truth is, Bellicise and Luce are real. There really is a war out there. It’s a tough and dangerous battle of good versus evil to save all of mankind. But, never fear! As long as we develop Dynam, the world will be saved!

You, too, can help in this cause. All you have to do is pay a course fee and I can train you how to help save the world. It will be for the greater good, so it’s very much worth it. The road will be long. You’ll work endlessly while earning very little money. You’ll rarely see your family. If you step out of line, you’ll have to be punished. (And let’s be honest, sometimes we’ll punish you “just cuz.”) But again, it’s for the greater good. So open your wallet and let’s get moving.

Ohhhh wait. Never mind! That’s not right! I’m talking about Scientology, NOT Dynam. But since L. Ron Hubbard created a religion out of thin air after gaining lots of writing practice on his Sci-Fi novels, can’t I do the same thing with my fiction? Oh, that seems strange to you? Yeah, I guess that’s because it is…

beyond beliefIn Beyond Belief, Jenna Miscaviage Hill, niece of the dictator ruling Scientology, David Miscaviage, gives us a poignant tale of her bizarre and dysfunctional upbringing within the Church. Because of her familial ties, we get an inside look at the organization that calls itself Scientology.

Before reading this book, I wasn’t aware Scientology had its own language. For instance, Scientologists undergo a process called auditing, where they’re asked a series of questions while holding fast to an electronic device called an E-Meter. It’s meant to be a cross between a lie detector test and psychotherapy—the receiver of the auditing is supposed to release bad “stuff” in their life, or in past lives. Do your spiritual housekeeping through auditing (while paying hefty fees!) and you’ll eventually gain the status of “Clear,” where you’ll be happily free of the nasty influence of engrams. Do REALLY well, and you’ll get to the Operating Thetan level. Scientology_e_meter_blue

So far, it doesn’t sound all that bad, does it? You pay some money and people talk to you about your childhood—not an unusual thing in our society. There are lots of made-up words, but that’s not the worst thing ever. And after all, if it’s good enough for Tom Cruise and John Travolta, it should be good enough for me, right? But, look more closely. There are important red flags.

Scientologists are encouraged to detach from emotion and approach everything with the rules that have been drilled into their heads—rules that are supposed to help Scientology save the world. Independent thought of any kind is discouraged, and folks who step out of line receive “chits” for bad behavior. They’ll be accused of things like an “Out 2D” or of being “Out Ethics”—all things which have arduous and terrifying consequences, like working 23-hour days with little food, only to be given a soggy mattress on a rooftop to sleep on at the end of the night.

Another incredibly scary thing about the religion is that if you vocalize concerns or leave the religion, you might be labeled a “Suppressive Person,” or a person that is against the aims of the church. Members of Scientology are instructed to disconnect from SPs—in a nutshell, cut them out of their life completely and never speak with them again. For some Scientologists who grew up in the church, like Jenna, this means choosing between your own health and safety, and never seeing your family or friends ever again.

scientology letterThe main point of the religion is quite clearly the cash money. L. Ron himself said to one of his ex-wives that the way to make the big bucks was to start a religion. And make the big bucks he sure did! For a Scientologist to reach the OT levels (the higher levels of Scientology) they would pay over $100,000. Keep in mind as you read—Scientology managed to get itself classified as a religion, and billions of tax dollars they owe you and I, as American citizens, go unpaid every single year they exist. You’re paying for this shit to go on, people.

Another interesting element to this story for me, personally, was that the author is just six months older than I am. As I read this book, I kept looking at her timelines and realizing that while she was doing manual labor hauling railroad ties, scrubbing toilets with a toothbrush, acting as “medical liason” at age 7, and reciting mindless quotes by L. Ron, I was doing normal kid stuff like building forts, crushing on boys, and being pissed off at my parents that we weren't having macaroni and cheese for dinner.

The writing itself is no masterpiece. There’s everything from bad grammar, to repetition, to spelling problems. The younger portions of the author’s timelines seem to have a ton of detail. I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember nearly as much as she did when I was two years old. She’s also got some major timeline issues in there. She mentions getting to the Ranch around March of 1999, shortly after that mentioning she was six years old. So, I’m pretty sure she meant 1990. Her publishers didn’t really do their jobs on the editing piece, which is a shame.

But all in all, the story is an emotional telling of the first eighteen years of a woman’s life, which were largely destroyed.

Way to make it out alive, Jenna.