Based on real events in the life of the author’s mother, Passion and Poison is the story of a Texas woman who succumbs to the trappings of affluence and vanity, only to regret a 70-year marriage controlled by her husband.
Auburn-haired and strikingly beautiful, Cree Reynolds is a smart, passionate, introverted teen who falls for the good looks and charm of a senior football player. Marriage and a child ensue, and although Cree possesses no motherly desires, all of her attempts at a career are waylaid by spousal threats that quickly escalate to abuse. Alcohol calms her—and eventually lands Cree in a psyche facility. Upon her release, her husband continues to exert his control.
Related chronologically, the story moves at a steady pace, and Boyer’s writing style is genuine and personable. She offers generous details about the prison-like atmosphere of the psyche facility, from sugared gruel and acrid sounds and smells, to barbaric electroshock treatments. And while Cree’s tolerance of her husband’s cruelty may seem somewhat implausible, the book’s exploration of depression, addiction, and the mores of the 1940s/50s help shed light on such behaviors.
Unfortunately, the character of Cree comes with some limitations. Vanity and the blame game are often at the forefront of Cree’s self-assessment, and futile realizations follow her: “I’m a woman caught between havin’ everythin’ any woman could want and at the same time, havin’ nothin’ of true value in her life,” she notes. In her unwillingness to rise above self-pity, Cree can seem unlikable, particularly if judged by today’s standards of female equality and empowerment.
Cree’s southern drawl, written with the dropped “g,” is prominent throughout the narrative and may be distracting to some. And bold and italic print, used to emphasize Cree’s thoughts and the volatile subject matter, are unnecessarily diverting.
Nonetheless, this is a thought-provoking tale. With its blend of love, loss, family secrets, and dysfunction, it should appeal to a female audience enticed by its memoir-style writing.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.