Dark reading in the dark hours.
04 January 2011
One of the books I looked at this past week while up at 4 a.m. was Jessica Stern's Denial: A Memoir of Terror. I forgot where I first read about it, but it sounded interesting to me: in it, Stern recounts how, in 1973, a stranger entered her house with a gun and raped her and her sister (at ages fifteen and fourteen, respectively) and how that experience shaped her. Eventually she became an expert on terrorism and post-traumatic stress disorder, even while the crime from which she suffered went unsolved and she continued to try and deny its effects on her life.
I know: Yuck. I was a bit worried about myself when I read that description and wanted to read this book--who voluntarily picks up a book on this subject? Well, me, I guess. I was particularly intrigued by a sentence of the jacket copy: "After her ordeal she could not feel fear in normally frightening situations."
And the book is really good. Stern's account of the rape is told as she looks back over the original police report that was filed, complete with the notes she made for herself to try and tell the police the complete story; it's not really graphic, but it is horrifying all the same. And it's even more horrifying that the police at the time didn't knock themselves out trying to solve the case, as they believed the sisters were lying about not knowing their assailant--and their rapist most likely went on to commit other crimes.
I knew I was going to like it from the first, thoughtful paragraph: "I know that I was raped. But here is the odd thing. If my sister had not been raped, too, if she didn't remember--if I didn't have this police report right in front of me on my desk--I might doubt that the rape occurred. The memory feels a bit like a dream. It has hazy edges. Are there aspects of what I think I recall that I might have made up?" (p. 7.)
This book reminded me a lot of other superlative books I have read about violence (particularly to women) and its after-effects on the human soul and psyche: Alice Sebold's Lucky, Terri Jentz's Strange Piece of Paradise, Jeanine Cummins's A Rip in Heaven: A Memoir of Murder and Its Aftermath, Lori Amy's The Wars We Inherit: Military Life, Gender Violence, and Memory, and Ron Franscell's Fall: The Rape and Murder of Innocence in a Small Town.*
But I couldn't finish it. I made it through about fifty pages, and I realized I just couldn't take it right now--I've got another depressing book (that I have to read, for review purposes) and I just need to read something a little lighter. But when I get this book back I'll talk about it again. Meanwhile, you readers who can handle a thoughtful mix of true crime and a personal story of self-understanding might like to give this one a try.
*Wow, I hadn't realized how much I gravitated towards these types of books. I abhor violence but I think I keep trying to figure out how people recover from it, which I find very inspiring in its own way.