I read Changeling with two simultaneous brains. My right brain, emotional, reactive, horrified and full of dread. I identified with Joanne as a woman -- I felt the fear every woman feels on a cellular level of being taken, raped, dominated, and abused. I sympathized with her reactions to physical and psychological torture. I agonized with Joanne, I understood her struggle to survive; her decision whether or not to want to stay alive. When she finally escapes from Dreyfuss’ clutches I found myself shouting RUN TO THE HOSPITAL YOU DUMB BITCH! She doesn’t but....well, I won’t give it away.
But I am also a mental health professional, so I couldn’t help but also view the characters and the story with my left brain: clinical, rational, logical. It is also for this reason -- my profession -- that I don’t generally read horror fiction. I see enough true-life horror in my work that I am not entertained by it anymore. That being said, Changeling was like a scary roller-coaster ride, and I did enjoy it. Dreyfuss is a vampire, a mythical beast, far enough removed from reality that I was able to be carried along by the story and by Joanne’s transformation.
Clinically, Dreyfuss was easy. He is a classic narcissistic sociopath. Contrary to popular belief, sociopaths can be very charming. They are master manipulators who callously toy with people’s emotions to get what they want. Dreyfuss has no conscience and no empathy. Joanne is at first merely food and then a social experiment. He sees her triumphs as his triumphs because he sees her as his creation. She is not a person to him. At best she is a pet. He never has to justify his treatment of her to himself because he doesn’t think about whether what he’s doing is right or wrong. To him, it is right because it is what he wants. As she continues to survive the torture he metes out, she becomes (in his estimation) worthy of becoming his Changeling. It makes no difference to him whether she wants to become a Vampire or not. It is right because it is what he wants.
Joanne’s character, and journey, is a bit more complex. We know almost nothing about her before she is captured by Dreyfuss. She works a lot, she’s liked well-enough by her office-mates, she lives alone and has a cat. Gallagher gives us very little information to help us predict the outcome for Joanne; or whether she will survive at all. Fortunately for us, Joanne does fight and she does survive. Gallagher’s language shows us so well, so descriptively, Joanne’s journey from waking up in shock through the fight-or-flight reaction, post-traumatic stress, battered-person syndrome, the cycle of violence, rape trauma syndrome, and Stockholm syndrome that it was almost physically painful to read. There were times when I had to put the book down and walk away. I kept walking away because it was so horrific. But I kept coming back because I just had to know what would happen next.
This is not a love story.
At first, Joanne is disoriented and in extreme shock and pain. She copes by narrowing her focus to the very minutiae of survival. Breathing, bathing, eating. She demonstrates very little fear at this point. She is only surviving. As the shock subsides and she begins to adapt, we see her focus widen and her terror grow. And then begins the cycle of violence. After months of unpredictable violence at the hands of someone physically overpowering and cruel, it is not uncommon for the victim to initiate a beating. It sounds masochistic, but within this context, it is actually a way for the victim to maintain some measure of control. And this is exactly that we see in Joanne. Once the beating happens that you know is coming eventually, you can stop worrying about when it’s going to happen -- at least for a brief period of time. In some relationships there is even a honeymoon period of reconciliation. We do not see this with Dreyfuss, but then again, this is not a love story.
As time goes on and Joanne survives her training as a Changeling, her growing strength surprises her captor. He takes all the credit, of course (the bastard) but in the end she proves to us (and to him) that there is precious little that she can’t withstand.
MA. Licensed Professional Counselor