Today we're sharing a guest post by Kelly Sundberg, author of Goodbye Sweet Girl.
About the Book:
In this brave and beautiful memoir, written with the raw honesty and devastating openness of The Glass Castle and The Liar’s Club, a woman chronicles how her marriage devolved from a love story into a shocking tale of abuse—examining the tenderness and violence entwined in the relationship, why she endured years of physical and emotional pain, and how she eventually broke free.
"You made me hit you in the face," he said mournfully. "Now everyone is going to know." "I know," I said. "I’m sorry."
Kelly Sundberg’s husband, Caleb, was a funny, warm, supportive man and a wonderful father to their little boy Reed. He was also vengeful and violent. But Sundberg did not know that when she fell in love, and for years told herself he would get better. It took a decade for her to ultimately accept that the partnership she desired could not work with such a broken man. In her remarkable book, she offers an intimate record of the joys and terrors that accompanied her long, difficult awakening, and presents a haunting, heartbreaking glimpse into why women remain too long in dangerous relationships.
To understand herself and her violent marriage, Sundberg looks to her childhood in Salmon, a small, isolated mountain community known as the most redneck town in Idaho. Like her marriage, Salmon is a place of deep contradictions, where Mormon ranchers and hippie back-to-landers live side-by-side; a place of magical beauty riven by secret brutality; a place that takes pride in its individualism and rugged self-sufficiency, yet is beholden to church and communal standards at all costs.
Mesmerizing and poetic, Goodbye, Sweet Girl is a harrowing, cautionary, and ultimately redemptive tale that brilliantly illuminates one woman’s transformation as she gradually rejects the painful reality of her violent life at the hands of the man who is supposed to cherish her, begins to accept responsibility for herself, and learns to believe that she deserves better.
From the Author:
A little over five years ago, I drove home from a doctor’s office while the phrase “It will look like a sunset” played in my head like an incantation. Those were the words the doctor had said to me as she had held my bruised and battered foot, a foot that had been battered by the man I loved. The doctor was speaking literally (about the colors), but the writer in me only heard the metaphor contained in those words. Even as I cried in the car on the way home, I knew that there was power in that metaphor. Months later, I wrote the essay “It Will Look Like a Sunset” about why I stayed for too long in my abusive marriage, and that essay is what became this book.
In addition to exploring my marriage, Goodbye, Sweet Girl chronicles my upbringing in the rural cattle country of Idaho, and how that environment, along with the gender roles in which I was raised, later helped shape my decision to stay in an abusive situation. As a former wilderness ranger, I have long been interested in environmental writing and, while composing, I sought to write a memoir that was not only about my interior life, but also about the world around me.
There is a tradition of environmental writing being positioned as transcendental or redemptive, but I wanted my book to push back against that tradition. Though there may be redemption contained within elements of my story, women writers have long been limited by the expectation that our stories should be phoenix stories wherein we are transformed, or somehow made more whole, by the traumas that happen to us. The truth is messier than that, of course, and the environment in a nonfiction text should, like all other aspects of that text, seek to reflect the writer’s truth. As I attempted to convey the truth of my experience, my memoir sought to challenge traditional notions of victimhood, women, violence, and nature.
All of my writing engages with the uneasy relationship between people and place, along with the ways in which people and place can affect and, subsequently, reflect each other, and I knew that I wanted Goodbye, Sweet Girl to be the same. What I wanted least within my book was for it to come off as redemptive.
Still, at the end of Goodbye, Sweet Girl, I did create a redemptive ending. I simply couldn’t help myself. After all, though the trauma was ongoing, I did feel redeemed. I left the marriage, and I can only answer the truth of my story which is that I survived. It would have been disingenuous of me to create an ending for my memoir that wasn’t, at least on some level, redemptive. Still, what I’ve realized is that I was not redeemed by the wilderness I had escaped to, nor was I redeemed by my story. My redemption came from my decision to tell my story. Only then was I able to take back my own life.