In the very beginning of The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, the reader is introduced to the concept of the mediocrity: “We are in the middle, exactly in the middle, of a place called Eden Grove. A suburb. Neither town nor country: intermediate (3).” The single line, hardly flamboyant, carries its symbolic irony throughout the entire novel. Simply put, The Life and Loves of a She-Devil is a novel of extremes. This is most clearly demonstrated in the protagonist of the story, Ruth Patchett, through her epic quest to control the world around her. While Ruth’s initial personality appears to be that of mediocrity similar to Eden Grove, the reader is quickly introduced to her bursts of hysteria, seething anger, unquenchable thirst for revenge. This human flaw-almost a tragic flaw-is humorously accented by her clumsiness. It is her shocking transformation into the capable She-Devil that is disturbing, a transformation that leads to the eventual destruction of both the destroyer and the destroyed. However, Ruth’s fatal flaw is not her lust for vengeance, but rather that in her quest for control she abandons all moderation and openheartedly embraces the extreme.
Throughout the novel several hints testify to Ruth’s desire for control, particularly Ruth’s confession that she, “like[s] to control nature” (9). However, this desire for control intensifies after her husband Bobbo leaves her for Mary. With this act, her entire life-however shaky its foundations were-has collapsed. Ruth, unable to accept this , sets off on an epic to destroy Mary and punish Bobbo for his transgressions. It is most significant that Ruth’s true insanity commences once she disassociates herself from Eden Grove. The reader is bombarded with examples of how extreme Ruth will go to destroy lives: she abandons her child at Mary’s house, arranges for Mary’s mother to be evicted for her nursing home and live with her daughter, frames Bobbo for embezzlement, convinces a judge to make an example out of him, and arranges a carnal relation between Mary and a priest. Most extravagantly, she spends millions of dollars transforming her body into the body of Mary Fisher. Only when Mary dies from cancer does Ruth arrange for Bobbo’s release and restart her life in Mary Fisher’s lighthouse with Bobbo, now more a zombie than a man.
The irony of the She-Devil’s reign is that by crushing the mountains into pebbles Ruth has forever surrendered her ability to touch the starry heavens. What exactly did Ruth gain from her extremes, her extravagances, her enacting of vengeance? Undoubtedly she gains control, but certainly not victory. Ruth has been disillusioned over the significance of her power and the reality of her enemies. It was nature-not love or lust for Mary Fisher, or Bobbo’s foolishness-that drove her husband away from her. It was nature that made her the way she was physically and in her effort to tame it and its effects the reader becomes aware of the folly of her extravagance and extremism. The emotional response is intensified by Ruth who-to the very end-seems oblivious of her own ridiculousness. “Even nature,” she says, “bows to my convenience” (276). It is true: in the end the She-Devil succeeds and takes her trophy, tearing away those green vines of nature. But for this mastery, she has traded the charmingly mediocre humanity that defined her.