Review by Angela L. Eckhart
Melissa Grunow’s memoir, Realizing River City (Tumbleweed Books, 2016), is an honest account of one woman’s struggle through abusive relationships and search for love. Married at 21 and divorced, suddenly, at 25, she tries to find compassion from several men, but quickly discovers how relationships can go from promising to disappointing. Her memoir chronicles these relationships while trying to escape the cycle of abuse to find her life partner and, ultimately, to find herself.
Grunow had moved from Michigan to New Mexico with her husband. Fresh from her divorce, she stays in New Mexico, despite the dangers of being a single female in Juarez, a place where female killings occur frequently. She rebounds with Raul, a man from work. She explains, “My marriage had failed, and Raul was the first man in five years to pay me any attention. I was desperate for his attention, desperate to know for sure I hadn’t made a mistake in ending a marriage to a man who had only wondered if the divorce—not the wedding—had been a mistake.” And that was her first mistake—her desperation. Her relationship with Raul was turbulent, and he consistently insulted her, saying things like “I have really high standards. I deserve better than you,” and his nickname for her, Tubby, never allowed her self-esteem to blossom. Grunow floats aimlessly through degrading or otherwise brief relationships, not knowing quite how to gather the strength to break free from the current. She consistently jumps back into the choppy waters of abuse, wondering if she will ever surface.
The book is organized into three parts, all depicting terms for water. Part I is Wading, which fits the idea of “testing the waters” through different relationships, while Part II is Tributaries. Although that term is defined as a “river or stream flowing into a larger river or lake,” it can also mean “a person that pays tribute to another ruler.” How fitting, especially since she often pays more attention to the men instead of herself. Grunow’s ability to reflect upon the things that go wrong in her relationships will ultimately save her, which brings the readers to Part III, Surfacing. Despite her inability to find the right man, she does gain some friends, particularly Joe and Glen, and through these friendships she learns new things about herself, which help her realize her potential. Each chapter seems to focus on one particular man, or relationship, and the details are written with humility and grace. Grunow’s writing is vulnerable yet strong, and she delivers her stories with the voice of someone who isn’t afraid to admit she seems to consistently attract the wrong men.
Grunow’s stories made me root for those men who stood by her and allowed her to grow as an individual, including hoping that one (or more) of those friendships might turn romantic. Such are the stories women enjoy, which explain blockbuster romantic comedies, but are they also found in real life? Decide for yourself. Although Grunow’s self-esteem was tested by several men, she eventually prevails, because she must lift her head above the surface in order to breathe. She realizes, “I couldn’t give myself to a man with hope that he would give me a commitment in return. It wasn’t reasonable for me to expect a man who wanted nothing from me to give me anything I needed.”
Grunow’s memoir was enjoyable, educational, and entertaining, and it’s suitable for anyone who has ever been in a bad relationship but came out of it for the better.