Being Mean: A Memoir of Sexual Abuse and Survival by Patricia Eagle

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What has been lived will never be erased, and possibly never be completely understood.

Being Mean was a term as violent as a loaded gun in Patricia’s household. Her memories of her childhood and the sexual abuse she was subjected to by her father, enabled by her cold mother isn’t easy to stomach. It’s a society built on silence, the weapon isn’t used solely by abusers but entire families because to confront the horror of what is happening is to admit a sort of defeat and vileness in one’s own home. To the victim, particularly when it starts at a tender age, there is a traffic jam in the brain because how does a child understand what is happening to them when there is a chaos of confusion and conflicting feelings? Our bodies feel good, so is that bad if what is happening is something you both hate and enjoy? How do you measure normal with nothing to compare it to, until you’re old enough to witness what an easy, natural, harmless affection is between father and child?

How often, through stories of abuse survivors, do we hear that when the victim tried to tell their other parent or a trusted family member they were  ‘smacked across the face’ or deemed a liar, a bad girl/boy? Worse, jealousy- a mother jealous of the affections given to her child, affections that violate every cell of the little girl’s being. How do you grow up and not act out or struggle with impulses? It isn’t unusual for a woman’s body to turn against her, with the reproductive organs. It seems we bury our emotions there, a silent graveyard of transgressions. You may dissociate psychologically but the body knows, and it will revolt.

If this were a movie of the week, Patricia would out her father and there would be a trial, he’d be shunned at some point, her mother would rally behind her. This is real life, and real life is crooked. She is a sick woman, she remembers wrong, she is making it up right? No way did her Daddy do that! The reckoning never truly comes, Patricia will struggle with the abuse memories and her love for both her parents her entire life. There isn’t a magic word or moment that suddenly heals all, because like she said “what has been lived will never be erased”, it rises to the surface within her relationships with herself, her body and others. How can you ever truly understand such abuse? Children blame themselves when a parent harms them, be it mentally or physically. In Patricia’s case, her father was abusive towards her mother, each parent had their own scars in life but does that excuse or explain enabling sexual abuse? Is his violence towards her mother a reason to ignore her little girl was being exploited?

In this violent home, it was easier to just keep the peace. Mommy knew and did nothing. There was “one last time” at the age of 13, Patricia had to block it out in order to build a life. College was her way out, the only escape. Sexual promiscuity, abortions, abusive relationships, a young marriage that feels like falling off a cliff, drugs to numb her mind and body, these are just more escapes labeled adventure. We journey alongside pivotal moments in her 65 years of life, and even find her caring for the very parents who sexually and emotionally abused her. Does her mother ever apologize for her own guilt or acknowledge the truth? What do you think? It takes a lot of strength and courage, and more forgiveness than I know I have in my heart to be the person Patricia is.

A raw, painful read. It is so difficult to be a witness to the early pages (memories) of the sexual acts, and not feel rage building within’ for every child who has ever suffered or is being abused right as you read this. I wish prayers were enough, they’re not, it takes action and those who love the child enough to protect and speak up. I can’t even count on both hands how many child abuse survivors I have met in my life, not even including those around me who know of children who have been abused by family members, strangers, partners of parents. Sometimes it feels like the real epidemic of our times. This is one victim’s story in a sea of many.

Available Now from She Writes Press

(Published June 11, 2019)

 

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Good Girl, Bad Girl: A Novel by Michael Robotham

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Everything has a half-life- even facts.

Cyrus Haven’s career as a psychologist is to figure people out, reach into the broken parts, pull them out of the terrifying places that haunt them so they can confront their pain and heal. Asked to help with difficult teenager Evie, he discovers she has an uncanny ability, one that has been with her long before her own horror show life. She is “Angel Face” the child who was discovered in a secret room, a starved, sickly child of indeterminate age living more like an animal than human alongside the carnage of a horrific crime. No one knows where she came from, who she is, and she won’t talk about it. All the adults bombard her with questions, but it’s a past she doesn’t want to return to, not even in thought. “Isn’t my silence loud enough? I think. Don’t tell me that my silence doesn’t have a sound. I can hear it, loud and clear, screaming between my words.” Silence is her protection, and when she does talk it is the undoing of the people helping her, who to her are nothing more than captors, imprisoning her in the Children’s Home, fools to be played with. There is no one more skilled than Evie at eviscerating others with their own truths. She wants to be free to live life outside the home and Cyrus is key when his friend Guthrie asks for his help, undone by Evie and her mental games, but will she cooperate, when she cannot silence the noise of her past, and her only salvation is to never trust another? The other adults in charge feel she is a dangerous threat to society, with her record of violence on others. Sad as her past may be, there is something terrifying about her! She isn’t 18, they don’t really know her age, her DNA doesn’t supply her origins, she isn’t on a missing children’s list, it’s as if she came from nowhere. All they know is she was shockingly used and abused, there is no doubt she is a survivor but whatever she experienced left her damaged.

Cyrus has his own tortured past to contend with, or seal off. It is through his work, helping others that he seeks penance for the past. Where Evie was at the heart of her nightmare, Cyrus was absent from the bloody havoc of his own and it cost him his entire world. His current case involves the Ice Princess, fifteen year old figure skater Jodie Sheehan found murdered in a wooded area. What happened to her, the secrets she was hoarding are just as confounding and mysterious as Evie. The talented, sweet Jodie was living a sort of double life, rising ice rink star in the public eye but behind the scenes wrapped up in something seedy that led to her possible rape and later, her murder. Cyrus has no end of lies to sort through, from her trainer to her family and friends- everyone is a suspect.

Help arrives in the form of Evie, who deftly defies rules, authority to trudge through the intestines of the vile case. Cyrus will find a partner he didn’t ask for when he decides to take her in as a foster, and Evie’s instinct and impulsive nature may put her very life at risk. Just who is really saving whom? I found this incredibly engaging, Jodie’s story kept it all rolling but I want to pick at Evie’s scabs and find out what happened. Will there be a second book? I hope so!!! Yes, read it! Here I go again casting a book and making a movie in my head! Please, sir, I want some more.

Publication Date: July 23, 2019

Scribner

 

White Dancing Elephants: Stories by Chaya Bhuvaneswar

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She’s probably my age, I realize suddenly, early forties, but she has not spent her life on mistakes.

This collection of stories by Chaya Bhuvaneswar is about more than being an immigrant or one’s ethnicity, it is also about feminism and LBGTQ women. From the start, the reader is on an emotional journey, living as long as it takes to read a story on the character’s breath. It begins with White Dancing Elephants, where a woman shares the aftermath of her miscarriage, gut wrenching and mind numbing, a trauma to think of what could have been, should have been. “Before my last morning with you, my love, I didn’t know rage.” Loss is a rage, a dead future. The writing doesn’t lessen in intensity, in The Story of the Woman Who Fell in Love With Death, there is a different sort of longing, a young boy relates a fictional tale with the loss of his own sister, the girl whom is never mentioned, and lives in the hidden photograph in his father’s sock drawer. Is she really a runaway, just what are the family’s dirty secrets? There is a line in the story that must express how many boys/men feel “Girls expected him to prove to them what boys were like: shallow, callous, laughing animals that could smell irresistible.” That in a book full of stories to make the unseen world of the female life visible, living particularly in the skin of women of color, in such an ugly world full of abuse and slurs, the author too was able to expose a vulnerability in a young male really touched me. Someone who wanted to be a boy good enough to rescue his own sister, heart wrenching! The body, how the female body is her own fault for every horror the world can think up to torture. It’s always her fault, isn’t it? How brutal and true the final line in the story (I won’t share it here, read it). I had a lump in my throat, thinking of what it means to be female in our world, thinking about my own daughter.

There are affairs and betrayals, fissures in friendship,illness, stories of sexual abuse, even if it’s just hinted at. Denial of one’s sexuality for the sake of family tradition, even if it means returning to India and ‘putting oneself in the ground’, burying oneself, rejecting our genuine identity and love for what’s expected. One of my favorites is Asha in Allston, and the ‘mannequin with hardware’ who definitely isn’t a HER! The horror in feeling jealous of perfection while trapped in a real failing human body, robbed of every future dream. I think I related in the sense that though there is no MALIN in my life, we women have a form of perfection in our face 24/7, and when illness enters… well… it’s that much more evident, of course in the story she lives with the ‘ideal female’ thanks to her husband’s job and genius. Tormented by the uselessness of her own body, impossible not to compare herself to this non-entity! Rage to turns to flame!

It’s an engaging provocative collection, the stories aren’t all about women as victims either. Sometimes they do selfish things, we’re imperfect creatures, as much as men, we just have to pay more for being human. As said in the life you save isn’t your own, “wrong decisions had all bloomed like seeds”. It got me to thinking about how much control we have, about decisions and chance how we often go against our own desires to please others, and about how much heavier choices are for females. Worse, about all the little girls in the world robbed of any choices at all, the orphan handler was pretty intense, dark.

A new voice in fiction, yes read her debut!

WINNER, DZANC BOOKS SHORT STORY COLLECTION PRIZE
WINNER, NARRATIVE MAGAZINE “TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK” FOR 2017

Finalist for the 2019 PEN American Robert Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection

Published October 2018

Dzanc Books

 

The Bobcat: A Novel by Katherine Forbes Riley

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But she was still herself, though with a torn apart feeling now, that of once again breathing alone.

Laurelie is still reeling after being sexually assaulted, haunted even by the images of the of crowded Philadelphia, the menace she senses everywhere.  University in the city is no longer tolerable, though she tried to navigate her old life, new habits took over, fear of seeing her attacker. The trauma is ingrained in her very skin, and she can’t seem to overcome her fear of human interaction. She decides to transfer to Vermont where she can work on her panels and become a sort of ‘cave animal’ herself. Surrounded by nature, working as a sort of nanny to a two and a half-year old boy, son of her landlord and landlady, she spends most of her time outdoors, letting the beauty of her surroundings and her charge’s wonderment feed her artistic belly. Their interactions are more visceral, as she sees him as a half possessed being, still not fully formed with opinions and thoughts it’s much easier to be in his unthreatening presence, but then she sees HIM. A hiker and a wounded wild bobcat, stranger is that the animal seems to be cuddling up to the man!

Curious about the hiker and his bond with the wounded animal she finds herself reaching out to him, offering to let him wash his laundry, which sounds simple to most of us, but for someone suffering a form of PTSD it’s like a leap off a cliff. Her cats seem to like him, you know what they say about animals being the best judge of character…

As the little boy grows and begins to ‘seek order in things’ Laurelie tries to see the world through his point of view. There is such beauty in the simplicity of childlike observations, and it’s well written in the relationship between them, their jaunts in the woods, his words just beginning to emerge. Curious about the hiker and his bond with the wounded animal she finds herself reaching out to him, offering to let him wash his laundry at her place, which sounds simple to most of us, but for someone suffering a form of PTSD it’s like a leap off a cliff. Her cats seem to like him, you know what they say about animals being the best judge of character…

There is a stillness in him, his approach is cautious, gentle as he senses the fear living inside of her. It isn’t long before she is seeing the land through his eyes too, how he understands the environment down the very ‘root systems’ of plants. He has peculiar ways, senses things on a much higher level than others. Senses that are highly attuned, much like an animal’s. He is stirring more than her desire, her art is flourishing, working on her panels to sort through the chaos that is still lingering from Philadelphia and all that took place there, too she begins to feel she is always ‘waiting for him’. If she retreated from the world, he is drawing her out, as much as her art is a means to siphon the poison from her soul. Then Rowan, the boy, disappears off the trails and the bobcat’s existence comes into question.

The novel speaks more in the moments between people and nature than actual conversations, which can lose some readers. I think the writing is beautiful, and I understand why there isn’t meant to be a lot of dialogue, but there were times I longed for it. This is a quietly restless novel, you absolutely feel the anguish of her rape without anyone needing to shout. Sometimes retreat is louder, and staggeringly heartbreaking. The art as healing as release and the surroundings as a balm, all of it feels true. I enjoyed The Bobcat, was saddened, hopeful and always engaged. A unique debut.

Publication Date: June 5, 2019

Skyhorse Publishing

Arcade Publishing