Enormously visceral, emotionally gripping, and imbued with the belief that justice is possible even after the most horrific of crimes, Sebold’s compelling memoir of her rape at the age of 18 is a story that takes hold and won’t let go.
Sebold’s story is wrenchingly, brutally sad, but thankfully it is not hopeless. She writes an honest and unflinching account of being violently raped and her existence in the wake of it. She does not shy away from describing the weaknesses in her family, including her own weakness of needing to prove time & again that she was fine, that she had surivived (even thrived), and that she was not the emotional basket case people expected her to be. When she had to deal with her closest friend being raped, she took the lead – at first – in helping her friend through it. She was experienced in this arena…she had done this before…she could shepherd her friend through the legal process. And this is the point where she begins to fall apart.
What Sebold didn’t realize at the time was that she thought she had moved on, but she had really allowed herself to be defined by her rape. She was the girl who pressed charges against her rapist and one. She was the one who was the good rape witness. She was the strong one…the savvy one…the survivor.
We don’t typically think of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as something that affects those who haven’t been to war, and yet it is very clear that Sebold does (or did) indeed suffer from it. She was functional in her day to day life, but not without the crutches of alcohol, drugs, men, the bravura she felt in “surviving” in New York City. It was only when she reads a self-help book in which she was quoted that she finally began to come to terms what the realities of her life, because she was finally able to truly see herself, to see the damage she lived with (and nurtured) for ten years, and to see that she defined herself in terms of before and after her rape. This is also when she began to make substantial and substantive changes in her life…and truly began to heal.
I loved this book, not only because it was well crafted, but because it lent an additional level of understanding to Sebold as an author. It’s obvious, having read her own story, that the fiction she writes is cathartic and hopeful both for her and for her readers. I look forward to reading more from her in the coming years.