Deborah’s first novel, Sylvie Denied, offers an intimate portrait of a woman who refuses to be silenced.
As she enters adulthood in the turbulent 1970s, Sylvie thinks the way to change a violent world is to become a peaceful person. Yet she slowly sees how a childhood trauma thwarts her peaceful intentions and leads her to men with a dark side – including Enzo, the man she marries. Even as his behavior becomes increasingly volatile, she believes she can make things better with love and understanding. But finally, living in terror, Sylvie must find a way to escape with her daughter and claim her place in the world.
What Others Are Saying
Deborah Clark Vance breathes life into both story and characters in Sylvie Denied. In her efforts to resolve tangled relationships and situations, Sylvie leads us through the ancient village of Nogare, Italy where “walls and streets were formed of round stones dug from the nearby stream. . . Its winding passageways donkey-cart wide, its link to the world a dirt path.” In Wilmette she learns there can be a dark side to suburban America, and South Dakota leads her to encounter a Native American spiritual leader. This rich cultural backdrop of exotic tastes and sounds makes Sylvie Denied an exciting and authentic journey.” — Patty Dickson Pieczka, author of Finding the Raven,” and two prize-winning poetry collections Painting the Egret’s Echo and Beyond the Moon’s White Claw.
Sylvie Denied is the coming-of-age story of a young woman of the 1970s who decides to influence the world around her by cultivating a peaceful response to adversity. She sets aside her inheritance of being a victim during the course of a journey through various communities on two continents. During this process, Sylvie sees how the bigger patterns of masculine aggression and social hierarchies repeat themselves in these microcosms, and grows to find her place in the world.
Despite her best efforts, her childhood trauma leads her into a relationship with the wrong man, whom she eventually marries. Thus continues a pattern of violence which moves from her childhood experiences to adult patterns, mimicking those she is already too familiar with.
How many times has it been theorized that violence can be conquered by peaceful intentions? And yet, here Sylvie struggles with the best of intentions gone awry.
Any woman who has faced abuse or trauma will empathize with Sylvie’s determination to be different and beat the odds, only to fail to recognize the warning signs that she is falling into a similar life also filled with conflict and threat.
Deborah Clark Vance takes the time to capture Sylvie’s childhood perceptions of her actions and those of the adults around her: “Sylvie was overwhelmed by the question of whether adults were clueless or just pretended to be. But she remained aware and did what Mr. Cook called “getting the big picture.”
Time is also devoted to exploring her blossoming relationship with the more worldly Enzo, who cultivates tricks for gaining what he wants from others, no matter the cost: “Enzo whispered, “Keep away from those germy guys and take your food quickly.” They carried their breakfast to sit on a stone ledge by the fountain and dipped the crusts into the lukewarm cappuccino and sucked on them. “This is something the church does for students too?” She felt uncomfortable about possibly stealing from the indigent.”
When Sylvie finally works a way out of her dilemma, she finds social and financial barriers thwart the mother of a small child who wants to forge a new pathway, who holds little experience in a world as unforgiving and uncaring as the one she’s built for herself: “I see you’re looking for something live-in? Like a nanny?” Sylvie considered whether to mention Enzo’s abuse, whether this was where she’d find a way out. But he’d only hit her twice in the past six months—who’d care about that, even if they believed her?”
This hard-hitting story of how Sylvie finally learns to put herself first and find a place in the world for herself and her daughter will appeal to any woman who has found that almost everything is easier to get into than get out of.
Women’s fiction and literature readers will find Sylvie Denied a hard-hitting, familiar-feeling story of growth and new directions. -Diane Donovan, Editor, Midwest Review,; Bookwatch
“In Sylvie Denied, Deborah Clark Vance gives a riveting picture of the sixties and seventies, as her strong-willed heroine searches for a meaningful life.” -Madeena Spray Nolan, author of “The Gift” and “The Burning Ground.”
“”Sylvie is a resilient free spirit open to the world but struggling to find a lasting relationship worthy of her decency and altruism. Rich in emotional and geographic detail, it is genuinely rewarding to read.” — Jonathan Slade, Producer of 8 Emmy-winning documentaries including “The Electric Road Trip,”
Book Group Discussion Questions
- Who’s your favorite character?
- Who would play him or her in a movie? Who should play Enzo? Sylvie?
- How has Sylvie’s childhood abuse affected her personality?
- Which of Sylvie’s decisions would you do differently?
- In what ways doesn’t Sylvie fit in?
- Discuss how Sylvie approaches her fears.
- How do Sylvie and Enzo each feel about their parents?
- Compare the two families’ supportiveness of their children.
- Can you relate to Sylvie’s and Janis’s friendship?
- Describe a time you’ve felt cut off from the outside world.
- Could you live without running water or electricity?
- What different views about women’s role are shown? about motherhood?
- Is there a typical men’s role?
- Who are the main “good guys” in each community where Sylvie lives?
- Discuss the messages about race.
- How is religious faith portrayed?
- Compare those times with now.
- What social supports were missing in the 1970s?
This book contains incidences of spousal abuse and child abuse.