Excerpt from Amazon's synopsis:
"When Alice Sebold was a college freshman at Syracuse University, she was attacked and raped on the last night of school. In a ham-handed attempt to mollify her, a policeman later told her that a young woman had been murdered there and, by comparison, Sebold should consider herself lucky. That dubious "luck" is the focus of this fiercely observed memoir about how an incident of such profound violence can change the course of one's life. Sebold launches her memoir headlong into the rape itself, laying out its visceral physical as well as mental violence, and from there spins a narrative of her life before and after the incident, weaving memories of parental alcoholism together with her post-rape addiction to heroin."
Her account of the rape was very disturbing (I’m sure it would be to anyone, but was particularly so for me), but I was expecting this book to be about how she healed; how she went on with day to day life after experiencing such a horrible event. For background and clarity she gives us a lot of information about her family, particularly her mother, who suffers from severe panic attacks, but little about how that affected her. That’s my main criticism of the book in a nutshell – it is written in first person but reads like a newspaper account.
More than three quarters of the book is taken up with the rape, the trial, and then the rape of her best friend (in their apartment -- the rapist made her friend move into Alice’s bedroom so he could rape her in the same bed that a previous rape victim slept in – talk about creepy).
Finally you get to the short “Aftermath” chapter (seriously, its 10 pages!), and all of a sudden you are filled in with all the self-destructive behavior that she was still engaged in, more than 10 years later.
“…I had published a piece in the New York Times Magazine
, a first-hand account of my rape. In it, I beseeched people to talk about rape and to listen to articulate victims when they had a story to tell. …I celebrated with four dime bags and a Greek boyfriend who had once been my student. Then Oprah called, having read the article. I went on the show. I was the victim who fought back. …[I] flew back home to snort heroin.”
Now I don’t know for sure, maybe I would want to snort heroin too if I were on Oprah, but does that sound like someone who should be held up as an example of someone who fought back and reclaimed their life?
She is successful almost in spite of herself, and, ironically, it isn’t until she is quoted in a book called Trauma and Recovery
(in the first half), that she figures out that she is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. As she reads first-person accounts by Vietnam vets she is finally able to start feeling, and therefore, healing.
She tells us her therapist had mentioned PTSD a year earlier but she dismissed it as “so much psycho-babble.” Wait – she has a therapist?? I’m sure there was a lot of fodder from those sessions that could have found a place in the book. I wish she had spent as much energy and pages on the aftermath and the healing as she did on the earlier events that made them necessary.
It takes a lot of guts to publish an account of your own rape, and I applaud her for doing so. It’s not an easy book to read, and despite my criticisms, I would recommend it.
I’ll discuss my own issues soon – suffice it to say for now that I wasn’t so “lucky” as to see my rapist go to trial and then to prison.