Saturday, May 15th, 2021

A Playbook For Discrediting, Discounting, Demonizing–And Destroying–The Truthful Woman Witness

Published on November 22, 2017 by   ·   46 Comments Pin It

Galt Niederhoffer‘s newest book Poison couldn’t have been released at a better time.  Women are uprising, holding men accountable, and fearlessly speaking names. As Galt says; “There is a playbook for discrediting, discounting, demonizing–and destroying–the truthful woman witness.” Poison tells the tale of all women who have been told they are crazy for trusting their instincts, and is loosely based on Galt’s true and jaw-dropping own story. Today, we celebrate the femme whistle blowers of the world, and righteous amazons before them by beseeching you to order this book now, and devour it’s prose and power.

Poison by Galt Niederhoffer, $18

Poison by Galt Niederhoffer, $18

In Poison, Cass and Ryan Connor have achieved family nirvana. With three kids between them, a cat and a yard, a home they built and feathered, they seem to have the Modern Family dream. Their family, including Cass’ two children from previous relationships, has recently moved to Portland ―a new start for their new lives. Cass and Ryan have stable, successful careers, and they are happy. But trouble begins almost imperceptibly. First with small omissions and white lies that happen daily in any marital bedroom. They seem insignificant, but they are quickly followed by a series of denials and feints that mushroom and then cyclone in menace.

With life-or-death stakes and irreversible consequences, Poison is a chilling and irresistible reminder that the closest bond designed to protect and provide for each other and for children can change in a minute.

Here’s an excerpt;

Prologue/Scene 1

This story takes place in a home, if such a concept can be trusted, a home in which a family lives and loves one another. In this home, the family wakes every morning and goes to sleep every night together. They cook, they eat, they sleep, they play. Everyone gives and everyone takes. Family is the ultimate symbiosis. They are part of that most perfect of machines in which everyone shares the common goal of survival and, when they achieve it, the luxuries that surpass it.

It’s a busy and productive life if the family tableau is, in fact, an accurate portrait. Houseplants, bookshelves, abstract art, kids doing homework in various corners. The artifacts of their very own culture. Children fight over toys, food, equitable distribution. Parents fight over bills, sex, equitable distribution. The parents pour their work into a home they hope will outlast them, a home built to weather storms, time, love, and other fluctuations. They try to make it durable. They try to make it matter.

This is the social contract writ large: love, marriage, family—a dowry of domestic virtues with all its gleaming assets. If a family is lucky, that luck compounds with annual interest. If a family is unlucky, it begins to crack at the surface. The luck of a family depends on the consent of every member of the unit. When one member fails to fill his role, the structure caves around him.

But when a family functions well, there are few things that are stronger. The family itself is a force, an unbreakable alliance. The drive to survive compels the most intricate defense and the most ferocious offense. A family is glued together by a central pact for self-preservation, and it runs on something stronger than loyalty, something more powerful than common interest, a goal whose realization is as important as its failure is dire. Life and death. These are the two possible outcomes that stand on either side of the family endeavor, the ultimate punishment and the best of all possible rewards. This is the unique property of blood and not water.

It is a perfect system, like the always-rising moon, the petals of a flower, a system whose beauty derives from its shape and the fact that it always happens. But not every family achieves this most coveted state. Nature shares its blessings on an uneven basis.

The Connor family has achieved this enviable state of nirvana. Something delicious simmers on the stove. The dishwasher murmurs. Laundry circles. The daily rotation of domestic life rolls on, as with any perfect machine, until a circuit breaks and the machine ceases to function.

It’s Thursday night, just after six, and Cass does the things of a mother. She decapitates a head of broccoli and drops it into a pot of boiling water. She opens the lid on a vat of rice and nearly burns her face off. She kneels to check the chicken, sweating in the oven. She hacks an onion with a knife, achieving, in three swift blows, a painless execution. She balances a call for work with the needs of her toddler, who is feet away on the floor, demolishing a wooden tower. She mutes the phone and calls upstairs to the older kids to please come down for dinner. She unmutes the phone just in time to utter something useful. The kids tumble down the stairs, enmeshed in their own struggle. The sitter, at six on the dot, abandons her post at the tower and makes her evening exit, the speed and precision of which sometimes feels to Cass like a jailbreak.

Despite the initial shudder of knowing that she is outnumbered, Cass softens when the sitter leaves, relieved by the privacy and power of being alone with her children. She could do anything with these kids, teach them any new concept, any new religion. She could tell them blue is green, that gender is a construct, that God does not exist, that God is perfect. It’s a dizzying amount of power. There is no one to check or balance this power—only the mother and the father. In any other situation—work, government, or religion—this would be a recipe for disaster. For Cass, it is a sacred gift, a vocation and an honor, the chance to start and end her day with her three most important people, three human beings who share her big trusting eyes and the rest of her genetic makeup.

The hours between six and nine include several obligations: dinner, homework, piano practice, bathing, brushing teeth, bedtime book, just ten more minutes of LEGOs, please, pile in for a snuggle. This time is often chaotic. But it is routine, and routine offers its own meditation. It is regimen and ritual. Cass lives for this time, and it lives by her supervision. She texts her husband before sitting down to dinner.

“Home soon? Kids are hungry.” She leaves the phone on the counter, deposits the baby in the high chair, and begins her nightly sermon. “All right, people.”

The kids take their seats. Cass dismembers the chicken.

“I want to wait for Ryan,” says Pete.

“Not tonight. It’s getting late.”

“I’m not eating until he gets here.”

“Then I guess you’re not eating.”

The standoff between mother and son ends in the usual fashion, with a heartfelt attempt at mutiny followed by a decisive maternal triumph, along with a tacit relief in the imperviousness of the ruling power dynamic. As the kids begin to eat, Cass breathes more slowly. She is like a mother cat, purring when her children are close—double that when they are eating a healthy dinner. She cuts and mashes chicken for the baby while Pete covertly transfers his portion to his sister. Cass takes a bite of her own and pretends not to notice.

A noxious buzz interrupts the quiet. Cass starts—as though it is not just the sound of her phone but rather she and her husband are wired for instant communication. She makes a show of disinterest and then, as the kids consider the meal, she stands and crosses the room to read her husband’s message.

“Stuck at work.”

She puts the phone down. The news is not uncommon. Ryan’s workload as an architect is cyclical, and his schedule can sometimes resemble a bear going in and out of hibernation. But the frequency of late nights over the last few months has been a source of minor frustration. She makes a conscious effort to unfurrow her brow and sits down with the children.

Cass looks different from how she expected to look at forty, her body further along in its natural expiration. She is a woman who has already seen most of life’s great highlights: a childhood with plenty of laughter and toys, summer nights in cars with sunburned boys, all-nighters in a college dorm lined with books and posters, a flurry of years rushing around in tall heels and short dresses, childbirth, three times, every one a revelation, a pink and wailing infant, eyes, chest expanding, the first precious moments of motherhood, when life reveals its purpose, and all the stages of undress in between from all dressed up to naked.

She has spent nights hunched over library tables, always the hungry student, hours scribbling to meet deadlines in a newspaper office, chipping away at the keyboard and ceiling, weeks sprinting down city sidewalks, chasing news and stories and then, years later, on these same streets, chasing after her children. She has slowed her pace to a waddle as her belly and ankles widened, and years, standing at playground swings, pushing her babies into midair and launching them in their childhoods. At forty, she has lain naked in the arms of at least ten men she thought she loved for a moment, fallen in love with three of these men, married two, and buried her first husband. She has lain on the floor of her kitchen, weeping, begging for respite from each passing minute, slept in rocking chairs next to a crib, nursing each child to sleep, to grow, so content as not to notice as these nights became a decade. She has kneeled at the grave of the husband she mourned and at the altar of the one who came after.

At forty, she is more beautiful than she imagined and more exhausted than she cares to acknowledge. Her eyes have tiny tributaries at the outside corners, laugh lines that she knows result, in fact, from both tears and laughter. She is tall and lean from years of running, miles docked burning baby weight and tamping back the sparks of worry. Her hair is blondish by design, with an ashy, silver timbre, and this, combined with her light eyes, makes Cass look certain even when she is worried. She is stately, if slightly spent, wise, if slightly wizened, exceptionally sexy or elegant depending on the makeup. She has the light eyes of an optimist, eyes that see human nature at its best, if not at its truest. Her smile bears the permanent twist of a woman who has heard more stories than most and lived even more. She has the curves that kindness gives a face, and the angles wrought by hardship. She is lithe but has the heft of a woman who has had and held unfathomable sadness.

Galt Niederhoffer is a writer and producer. She has written four novels, including The Romantics and Poison, and has produced over thirty indie films, twelve of which were selections and award-winners at the Sundance Film Festival. She has produced films that won the Audience Award, Screenwriting Award, Directors Award, and Cinematography Award at Sundance. Niederhoffer has been published in Vogue, New York Magazine, Jezebel, and Harper’s Bazaar. She lives in New York City.

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