Saturday, April 30, 2016

#Book #Review . . . Behave

From the author of The Spanish Bow comes a lush, harrowing novel based on the real life story of Rosalie Rayner Watson, one of the most controversial scientists—and mothers—of the 20th century. . .

“The mother begins to destroy the child the moment it’s born,” wrote the founder of behaviorist psychology, John B. Watson, whose 1928 parenting guide was revered as the child-rearing bible. For their dangerous and “mawkish” impulses to kiss and hug their child, “most mothers should be indicted for psychological murder.”

Behave is the story of Rosalie Rayner, Watson’s ambitious young wife and the mother of two of his children.

In 1920, when she graduated from Vassar College, Rayner was ready to make her mark on the world. Intelligent, beautiful, and unflappable, she won a coveted research position at Johns Hopkins assisting the charismatic celebrity psychologist John B. Watson. Together, Watson and Rayner conducted controversial experiments on hundreds of babies to prove behaviorist principles. They also embarked on a scandalous affair that cost them both their jobs—and recast the sparkling young Rosalie Rayner, scientist and thinker, as Mrs. John Watson, wife and conflicted, maligned mother, just another “woman behind a great man.”

With Behave, Andromeda Romano-Lax offers a provocative fictional biography of Rosalie Rayner Watson, a woman whose work influenced generations of Americans, and whose legacy has been lost in the shadow of her husband’s. In turns moving and horrifying, Behave is a richly nuanced and disturbing novel about science, progress, love, marriage, motherhood, and what all those things cost a passionate, promising young woman.


I must say I’ve never heard about this particular babies’ experiment, however, having said that, I was deeply disturbed in the way John Watson went about it. In fact, his whole view on raising of children boggled my mind. For a man who didn’t donate much of his time, except for his deposit of seed, rendering his first two children, and then continuing on in his same M.O. with his second set of children, where on earth did he get the notion this is the proper way to raise a child—without any emotion or affection at all? That, to me, was exhaustive and extremely damaging. After reading the epilogue, I realized that my thoughts were somewhat correct, after hearing what happened to the Watson children as they became adults.

The star of the story, of course, was Rosalie Alberta Rayner Watson, the woman who started out with so much vigor and hope and graduated from Vassar College probably never dreamed sitting in a lecture hall one day listening to a renowned psychologist, John B. Watson, demonstrating human behavior before her very eyes would one day be the father of her two sons?  He threw out a ball to the audience and one of the students didn’t know what to think because it was so unexpected, and so she dropped it. Nothing like the element of surprise. However, after Rosalie witnessed this, when Watson threw it to her, she instinctively caught it. He asked her a very simple question, “What were you thinking when I threw the ball?” Her response, “To make sure I caught it.” Watson successfully demonstrated an element of human behavior.

Watson was so enamored with Rosalie; he was more than happy to learn she’d be working with him at Johns Hopkins assisting in his studies of behavior. It appeared that it would be only a matter of time before Watson took his feelings to a whole other level, which Rosalie didn’t turn away. Although he was married with two children, didn’t seem to stop the full-on love affair the two embraced. All the dreams Rosalie’s parents had for her would have been nearly impossible for them to think things would turn out as they did later. This love affair not only caused problems for the Rayner family, Rosalie and John were both fired from their positions. Rosalie had to know better, especially given the fact that Watson had a reputation for sleeping with his assistants, of which she was one. But, she didn’t care because she was in love and lust.

Before they were let go from Johns Hopkins, Baby Albert was an experiment that helped put Watson on the scientific map. Although the experiments didn’t appear to have any lasting effects on the baby, at least not any that one could see or detect, Watson worked diligently on a series of experiments to further drive home his point that humans aren’t born with fear, but rather we’re taught what to be fearful of. Rosalie didn’t seem to like performing these tests and experiments, but just to be near Watson, was suitable for her tastes. As the reader goes through this story, a bit of karma begins to unfold as one would certainly expect.

I found the story to be very intriguing and sometimes a little boring at the same time. I kept expecting the story to go one way, and Rosalie continued to take me in an entirely different direction. I learned quite a bit about Rosalie and her drive, but felt a sense of sadness for her as well. There were so many questions I would have liked to ask her on some of the decisions she made, especially where her children were concerned. Again, it was mind boggling to me to have her husband advise and downright insist that she let her boys fend for themselves—to not indulge in showing or displaying loving affection with her sons. I can’t imagine what type of person I would have turned out to be had my mother not hugged or kissed me. Or even to say she loved me. In fact, it’s that very type of behavior that would certainly suggest the recipe for potentially raising a serial killer or someone with psychological damage. And like I mentioned before, after reading the epilogue, I wasn’t surprised or shocked by what I learned.

This was a pretty decent read, but not at all what I had expected. I’m not sure what I expected—perhaps a little more excitement, but then again, how could it be with the content of the story. I feel Romano-Lax did a good job making Rosalie the star of the story and telling her side of things, as best she could. Mello & June gives Behave four stars. It was interesting enough to keep you turning the pages and quite an education learned about the behavior of the famous John B. Watson.  

Kimberly Ranee Hicks, Author/Poet/Reviewer

We were created to Interact. . .
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