In The Dependent, Danielle Daniel shares the interconnected stories of her troubled marriage to a military man, her struggles with depression, and the accident that left her husband a paraplegic. Recently, several strong women writers have published candid memoirs about marriage and depression: Alison Pick (Between Gods), Jowita Bydlowska (Drunk Mom), and Kara Stanley (Fallen) come immediately to mind. Stanley’s book is especially similar in subject and tone to Daniel’s. Though The Dependent is in the same category with these three books in terms of content, it falls short in terms of quality.
The main thesis of The Dependent is that being a military wife is difficult. Daniel succumbs to the worst pitfalls of memoir: self-pity, self-aggrandizement, and sentimentality. She also demonizes those who do not see the world as she does, especially her Christian in-laws.
The best memoirists are empathetic and reveal complexity of character, even in those they do not always like. By contrast, Daniel repeatedly insists that civilians cannot understand the military life. She describes civilians as slow-witted and incapable of compassion. Being alone, she tells readers, is better than being in a room with civilians. One wonders why an author would deliberately alienate the very audience she claims to be addressing.
The memoir also suffers from narrative confusion. Daniel claims to have been shaped by her father’s infidelity, which she learned about through witnessing an illicit embrace when she was 15, but readers do not find out about this discovery until halfway through the book. This explanation for her otherwise irrational, jealous behaviour comes too late in the narrative.
Other gaps in the structure cause confusion. At the end of one chapter, she deals with a miscarriage; at the beginning of the next, she has a C-section. It is unclear why Daniel chose to skip over something as important as a first successful pregnancy, especially after describing a traumatic miscarriage. There is also a tendency toward clumsy metaphor and simile: “We slowly shifted apart … The way a canoe can drift from shore if not tied properly.”
Readers interested in the life of a military wife may at least find The Dependent informative. Those who come to memoir for beautiful writing and deep insight should look elsewhere.