Study Guide

The Rules of Survival Power

By Nancy Werlin


But Murdoch talked directly to the kid. "It's wrong for anybody ever to hurt you. No matter who does it, it's wrong. Can you remember that?" (1.30)

The kid at the grocery store obviously feels helpless against his father, but Murdoch lets him know that he does have some power. He doesn't have to take his dad's abuse… it's just not right.

But other times, any show of strength made her angrier and it was better to grovel.

I chose. I shifted my gaze down to the floor and waited, like a good beta monkey. (7.33-34)

Nikki doesn't let her kids forget that she's the boss, and she likes to humiliate them and make them feel small in order to exert her power and control. What a great mother, huh?

In the weeks after Murdoch broke up with our mother, Callie and you and I were involved in a frantic round of enforced family fun. (12.1)

Even "family fun" with Nikki isn't really all that fun. She controls everything that the Walsh kids do, so even when they've eaten too many pancakes and barfed on too many amusement park rides, she insists that they still act like they're having a grand old time.

Your mouth was set tight. And you had been crying—your eyes were reddened—but that was okay, I thought, because you were all right somehow. I could see at once, from the way you had hunched your shoulders, that your spirit was intact. (23.3)

Somehow, Emmy weathers Nikki's abuse, holding tight to herself. She remains sullen and ornery even when threatened with real punishment, so we can see that her spirit isn't broken yet.

"What would be fun for her?" he asked.

I shrugged. "Seeing you hurt. Seeing you sorry. Seeing you in trouble. Seeing you worry. That would all be fun." (25.35-36)

Nikki doesn't just want to hurt Murdoch or see him dead, she wants him to know that she's powerful and can make his life a living hell in a million small ways. That's her idea of a good time.

The important part of it was a no-contact clause; she was not supposed to telephone him, write to him, or send anyone else to talk to him or call him on her behalf. She was also supposed to stay physically at least one hundred yards away. Of course, this made her furious. (28.17)

When Nikki doesn't get her way, Nikki gets angry. Like the Hulk, Nikki does not like to be told what to do and she'll get crazier and crazier when she feels like she's being confined by something—like the law.

I watched you and wondered for several endless minutes if it would be best for you if the swing were to fly over the top, if you were to fall and crack your head open and die, so you didn't have to grow up with Nikki in charge. (28.20)

Well, that's dark. Sometimes, Matthew really does think that they'd all be better off dead instead of subject to Nikki's whims. He hates living in a world where she's in charge of every little thing that they do.

"She wanted me to see her," Murdoch told me. We were walking the causeway. "She wasn't hiding. When I'd see her, she'd catch my eye and wave. I remember, one time, she nearly sideswiped me on Route 2, and then she blasted the horn like crazy." (32.7)

Nikki isn't exactly the subtlest stalker. Instead of acting anonymously, she brazenly parades herself around Murdoch—restraining order or not. She wants him to know that something as silly as the law can't hold her back.

And how would she get along with the other prisoners? Would she get hassled, or could she defend herself? I honestly didn't know. Just because I found her formidable didn't mean that she really was. She was slender, pretty. Not physically strong. (35.17)

Nikki seems all-powerful to the Walsh kids, but Matthew realizes that she probably doesn't seem that way to everyone else. In prison, she might even be at a disadvantage because she's small.

Who were these men Nikki found who were willing to wait outside a strange man's house to hurt him? Was everybody crazy? (37.14)

It baffles Matthew that Nikki has so much sexual power over all these random men that she meets. They seem to fall under her spell and are immediately willing to do anything for her. What gives?