Manipulated Lives is a collection of five novellas which all deal with someone who is close to a manipulative individual and who is now coming to terms with their situation.
In The Narcissist, the reader is introduced to a man on his death bed.
First encounters shape the impression we have of a person and can have an impact on how we predict and interpret them
Whilst this opening might normally evoke sympathy, it soon becomes apparent that this is person who has lied, cheated and manipulated those around him – even his wife and children – to ensure that he has the life that he wants.
Tess and Tattoos takes a slightly different tack, and we don’t actually meet the manipulator in question. Rather, this tale is told from the perspective of the victim, Tess, who is now in a care home. The reader gradually learns about her former girlfriend, and how Tess left her family for an individual who didn’t care as much as Tess believed.
In The Spell, Sophie meets a new man, David and his son Leo, and begins a new relationship. David claims that his ex-wife, Leo’s mother, was a manipulator, and that he had to get his son away from her. But Sophie starts to observe some worrying behaviour on David’s part, and begins to question what he has told her.
The fourth story, Runaway Girl, was my favourite in the collection. Here we have Holly, a fifteen-year-old girl. Her life isn’t the happiest, particularly as her mother likes a drink or two, but she’s been saving money from her work as a babysitter so that she can leave her crowded home to live with an aunt and make a fresh start elsewhere. One morning, she attracts the attention of Lucas – one of the best-looking guys in school. Flattered by his attention, she allows herself to be drawn in by his charms.
The final story, My Perfect Child, presents a mother, Lisa, who is coming to terms with the fact that her child, Luke, is a manipulator. He’s been coddled and spoilt since birth, and to say that he is a demanding child is something of an understatement. But it takes Lisa a long time to see this.
I thought that this was a well-written collection of short stories / novellas, and I liked that each tale linked to the next in some small way (aside from the overriding theme of the manipulator and their victims, that is). Each character has a distinct voice, and I thought Leuschel did really well to change the tone from one tale to the next, particularly when it came to the fourth story and putting herself in the shoes of a fifteen-year-old.
The psychology behind manipulation and it’s victims is clearly something that Leuschel has researched and read into. I thought that the reactions of the victims, and the way that they excused the behaviour of those that were manipulating them, was highly plausible. Similarly, the way in which the manipulators try to justify their behaviour also felt accurate. The way in which they used those around them, and would use any tactics necessary to get what they wanted was uncomfortable at times, and it’s not hard to see why people do get taken in by this type of person – so often charming at the outset, they seem to be able to offer what their target needs most, although it’s a thin façade for what lies beneath which doesn’t take long to wear thin.
I do think that it would have been interesting to see this from the perspective of a male victim. Whilst we do have a female manipulator in the second tale, albeit one that the reader doesn’t meet, all of the victims are female. I don’t know if this is because male victims are less common, but I think that this would have been an interesting spin on the theme.
Many thanks to H. A. Leuschel for providing a copy of Manipulated Lives for review.