Notes from the Country Club

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Assigned to the mental ward of the Fort Worth Correctional Institution to undergo tests to determine her competence to stand trial for the stabbing death of her husband, Cynthia Mitchell must overcome the trauma of an abusive marriage.

Two years earlier, while she was working in a New York public relations firm, Cynthia met Daniel, a charming and attractive airline pilot from her home state of Texas. His dreams seemed to be hers—marriage and children. Soon after they settled in Texas, however, the dream crumbled as an abusive relationship developed. His violence, followed by periods of reconciliation and promises, was explosive and unpredictable. Isolated from family, friends, and coworkers, Cynthia experienced reactions common among battered women—feelings of terror, shame, and guilt—and suffered symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Finally, fearing for her life, Cynthia stabbed him as he slept while they were on a camping trip.

The novel begins with Cynthia in the federal prison, the “country club” of the title. Her story, told in flashbacks, is only part of the novel. The rest is about prison life with its dehumanizing routines, regulations, and atmosphere. There is information about Cynthia’s fellow inmates, “the bruised and battered,” many of whom have chosen insanity as a way of coping with a hostile world. The reader meets Glenda, who dances en pointe in the prison courtyard; Nina, arrested for “paperhanging” (writing bad checks), who attempts suicide; Coffee, a burglar, who expresses her anger in poetry; and Herlinda, who cut sugar cane in Cuba and reads the future in a mayonnaise jar filled with water. The women are traumatized and should not risk caring, but care they do. As the novel closes, Cynthia takes control of her own life, and the reader knows that she has escaped madness and is headed toward recovery and health.

Wozencraft has written a finely crafted novel with characters that elicit sympathy and respect, and she has given the reader a sensitive discussion of a serious problem.