When Taylor Armstrong gave a teary-eyed plug for her new book on “Watch What Happens: Live” after this Monday’s episode of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” I didn’t give it much thought. Reality stars pump out fluffy, catty, ghost-written tomes at the same rate Michelle Duggar pops out babies, and this seemed to be just another unimpressive addition to the genre.
But after a friend asked me if I’d be reviewing “Hiding from Reality: My Story of Love, Loss and Finding the Courage Within” (due out from Simon & Schuster’s Gallery Books division Feb. 7), I remembered why this book might be a little different — most reality stars don’t write tell-all memoirs shortly after their allegedly abusive husbands commit suicide, and don’t plug them just minutes after an episode featuring their own massive crazypants nervous breakdown has just aired. Ignoring this book until it comes out on paperback may not be an option.
Already the timing of Armstrong’s book already has viewers up in arms on the blogosphere — some defending her need to support her young daughter Kennedy, others slamming her for riding her husband’s still-fresh corpse to the bank. I’m still sorting out where my sympathies lie in this war of words, but I’ll freely admit to having some misgivings about “Hiding Reality.”
Though Armstrong admits that she would never have been able to write the book if her husband Russell hadn’t killed himself, I’m amazed that, in a few short months (Russell Armstrong killed himself in Aug.) she has found enough distance and insight into what’s happened to her to pump out a book she hopes will “help others find the courage to deal with the pain and fear of their abusive relationships.” After all, she admits her courage comes from the fact that her husband literally can’t touch her again — ever. That’s probably not a plausible scenario for most abuse victims.
I realize she’s been an advocate for victims of domestic violence for years as part of her charitable works, but it certainly didn’t seem to be a skill set she applied to her own life. As much as she’s nattered on about wanting a divorce on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” thus far on the show she hasn’t exactly scooped up her daughter, filed a restraining order and run out the door (fingers crossed that that’s coming). When Camille Grammer became angry and outed Armstrong’s claims of abuse on a recent episode, I hardly blamed her. Even when the cameras were rolling, Armstrong seemed committed to a view of herself as a helpless victim — with her friends, with her husband, with the friggin’ guy delivering chairs to her kid’s birthday party — even as she screamed and spewed insults with a bottomless rage. While Armstrong felt victimized (yet again) when her friends called her out on her claims, the reality is that they were simply frustrated with her seeming reluctance to save herself. Though we can assume she finally did, and she claims to understand that her misdirected rage at Camille was exactly that (if the “WWHL” episode is any indication), she hasn’t exactly established herself as a sage when it comes to domestic abuse. Yes, she survived. But I doubt she’s truly over it.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m sympathetic to Armstrong’s plight. I just have to wonder if readers will truly be helped by a recounting of life events if the journey toward healing and recovery is largely absent. We can assume Armstrong is in the midst of that process now. Had this book project been held off for a year or so, if we’d had another season of the show to see her move away from the massive vat of crazy she’s been swimming in, I might have been more interested in what she has to say. I also might find the whole project slightly less distasteful — Russell Armstrong may have been a wife beating jerk, but rushing out a book detailing his every transgression looks pretty tacky.
Armstrong claims, of course, that the book has the best of intentions. She wants to help people! I suspect she also wants to feed her kid and, just maybe, cling to the bottom railing of the Beverly Hills lifestyle to which she’s become accustomed (it’s rumored that Armstrong died in dire financial straits). So, will I read the book? Probably, if only to glean more insight into the show. But insights into anything else? Probably not.
Are you going to read the book? Do you think it’s a money grab or an honest attempt to help people?