Written with the taut urgency of a thriller, Danielle Trussoni’s memoir of the disintegration of her marriage is flat-out terrifying. Author of the bestselling novels Angelology and Angelopolis, as well as an award-winning memoir about her Vietnam-vet father, Trussoni turns her unique gaze in The Fortress to the dark heart of romance. Only she could write a memoir about a failed marriage that also includes black magic, Communist Bulgaria, the Knights Templar, ghosts and Provence.
When Trussoni meets Nikolai at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, the passion is intense, immediate and transformative. Soon the smoldering Bulgarian on a limited student visa is living in her apartment, eating her food and telling her that they have spent lifetimes looking for each other. He must be with her—which is why she ends up moving to Bulgaria with him when his visa expires. That, and the fact that she’s pregnant. Ignoring the persistent red flags in Nikolai’s behavior, she finds herself living in Eastern Europe for two years and giving birth in a stark Communist-era hospital.
The relationship is good until it isn’t, but a major contributing factor is Nikolai’s volatile mental state. After selling her first novel, Trussoni moves the family to the South of France into a 13th-century fortress used by the Knights Templar. Her depiction of the psychological terrors of Nikolai’s unraveling mind set against the occult history of their remote castle is reminiscent of The Shining, down to the ghostly apparitions and nightmares they each suffer. By the time Trussoni discovers the Tibetan death threats Nikolai has carved into a doorframe, her fear is palpable and the suspense unrelenting.
While The Fortress reads like a horror novel, its raw power comes from the hard-won emotional clarity Trussoni brings to her own role in the creation and dissolution of this marriage from hell.