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Shattered dreams.

Shattered Dreams.

Charlotte Fedders, Laura Elliott. Harper & Row, $17.95. This sorry tale of wife abuse in the high reaches of the Reagan administration is written less for watchers of that administration and this city than for Everywoman.

Its straightforward prose seems aimed at women who may find themselves facing similar abuse and seeming helplessness; Charlotte Fedders, on her publicity tour, has been plugging the national hot lines and support networks for battered women. Sadly, her story makes her the ideal figure to call attention to the fact that, according to some figures, a woman is beaten every 18 seconds and four women are killed by a violent spouse every day.

John Fedders, chief of enforcement at the Securities and Exchange Commission until 1985, first hit Charlotte early in their 17-year marriage and continued to do so as the years went on and they had five children. When Charlotte insisted he move out, and she sued for divorce, he contested, refusing to settle. That was how the case got to court, where Charlotte testified to the beatings and The Wall Street Journal broke the story, forcing John to resign and effectively ending his career.

It seemed a just punishment to many. In the book, Charlotte traces her marriage to John Fedders at 22. She considered herself unattractive, believing self-worth would come only with a man and marriage, and could never quite believe she had landed this tall, attractive, ambitious lawyer. Viewing it as her fault if the marriage failed, she didn't leave him--though her father, a doctor, told her to--after John slapped her during an argument and broke her eardrum. Over the years, despite violence and psychological abuse which reduced her to insecurity and self-hatred, she stayed. It was only when the children began to grow up, and she saw the abuse starting to affect them the same way, that she found the courage to end the marriage. One of the more useful psychological insights she repeats is that it was only after she got out of the marriage, and away from the pressures, did she realize that it wasn't only her sons who deserved better but herself as well.

Everything in this tale is distressingly typical. Only John Fedders's prominence in Washington made it unusual--and this, correctly, is downplayed in Shattered Dreams, though the authors do try, rather unsuccessfully, to work up a secondary moral of Washington power-hunger and its effect on home life. True or not, this comes across as a bit of a red herring: the more compelling theme of the book for its intended audience will be the degree to which it can reinforce the sense that "it happens in the best of families,' and also the worst.

The other singularity of Shattered Dreams is sociological: it may serve as a milestone in the book industry, the point at which the word "by' lost all meaning and came to function as just one more decoration on the cover. The names "Charlotte Fedders and Laura Elliott' on the book spine and the fact that Fedders is doing the book tour would seem to suggest that the book is ghosted. It isn't. Elliott, a writer for Washingtonian magazine, simply interviewed Fedders at length (obviously very great length) and wrote the book about her in the third person, supplementing it with other research and interviews. Nobody involved with the book or the contract seems to find anything in the least odd about this, so who is the reader to quibble?
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Author:Schwartz, Amy E.
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1987
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