The lies and sex of Stellenbosch, and the women who overcome them
Author Eva Mazza makes me wonder if women tend to put up with bad behaviour from men because they witness their own mothers not being brave enough to leave?
'Wathint' abafazi, wathint' imbokodo' - lyrics usually associated with women's strength and resilience, and their ability to get up, dust themselves and move on from any situation after fighting tooth and nail to make life better not only for themselves but also for those around them.
Eva Mazza's debut novel Sex, Lies & Stellenbosch tells the story of two women who do exactly that. They have not only risen from the lowest of the low situations but also shows the reader how women's power can get stronger with each generation.
The first woman is Jen. Wife to Stellenbosch's hot-shot winemaker and fit John Pierce. He's also the father of their two children, and a low-key player. On the morning after John's 55th birthday party, where Jen had had one too many, she woke up still a little bit drunk and without her husband next to her.
She drags her hungover self to the tasting room where a candle light is illuminating from. And as she opened the door...
"A man was seated on a bench in the shadowy far corner, his head thrown back, eyes closed and mouth agape... The man's one hand seemed to be cupped around a woman's breast while the other held the back of her head."
It was John getting a blow job from their wine rep, Patty. At that becomes a moment that changed Jen's life forever – like so many women around the world. And just like many of those women, she thinks she’s not worthy of love and that the situation was her fault. That was accented by her husband’s not-so-moving speech at his birthday party, where he reminded her that she was stuck with him: “Well, she has nowhere to go else to go. Isn't that right, darling?”
Jen eventually finds refuge at Stellenbosch's most expensive spa. Here, she meets Claudia, a child psychologist.
"When women support each other, incredible things happen," a wise woman probably once said. Claudia proves it to Jen by supporting her with terrifying advice.
Amid an emotionally and physically draining process from miserable marriage to an almost perfect life, Jen meets Myron: “a tall, well-built stranger. His broad shoulders were covered in a striped blue shirt, and a dark blue tie hung loosely around his neck. His hair was a curly mop of speckle Grey and his reading glasses hid between the curls of his head. Tiny laugh lines framed his dark brown eyes and a Roman nose procured handsomely from the middle of his face."
This is just one of the many descriptions Mazza manages that keep you turning from page to page and staying intrigued. Her descriptive details of a moment so life changing in a woman's life and so uplifting can be commended.
Myron is more than a hunk now, he's Jen's definition of a caring, loving and wild-sex-inspirer, something I'd recommend for a heart-broken woman who finds out her husband was worse than she thought when she first caught him with his manhood in another woman’s mouth.
Mazza also gifts the reader with an intriguing and delicious ability to write about sex, not only with words but also with the timing of the whole story. Each moment happens exactly when it needs to, and makes her characters’ encounters believable.
There could be more in the book about Jen’s parents’ marriage, which would help explain how Jen’s mother managed to be there for her daughter in her darkest hours.
"She thought a lot about her parents, too, and how her father had stripped her mother of her dignity and pride. Why had she not shown strength of character by leaving him?"
With this, Jen reminds us of the importance of a mother as a role model. Mothers are often the image of what a woman does when faced with tough times for many children.
"Surely, if she had taken a stand against him, she would've shown Jen that women do have choices and, moreover, that women have power."
Mazza could have created this complexity by dedicating at least one chapter to Jen's parents' marriage. A glimpse of how bad their marriage was and how it later affected Jen when she was going through a divorce would've put so many things into perspective. Without it, we're left wondering if women grow up to be their mothers. Do women tend to put up with bad behaviour from men because they witness their own mothers not being brave enough to leave? But that omission also leaves a reader thinking much more about her own relationship with her mother and how she can improve her bond with her own daughter.
And that is how women make miracles and get their revenge on cheaters. They cry about being blind while the cheatings happened, then they plan a killer exist strategy and go on to die free or go on to live happily elsewhere.
Because they are 'mbokodos' and where their mothers failed, they rise up and show up for themselves and the next generations of women.