Jessica Stern was fifteen years old when she was raped. She and her fourteen-year old sister were alone at her step-mother's home in a safe neighborhood where rapes don't happen, doing their homework, when a gun-wielding skinny man with a strong cologne and concord accent walked in and raped them. When they however reported the crime, the police were skeptical.
For the next more than thirty years, Jessica denied her pain. She became an expert on terrorism. However, she found herself incapable of feeling fear. Instead, she realized that she was hyper-vigilant when threatened. Eventually, she decides to learn more about her own unsolved rape and her rapist. What she comes to learn is not entirely to her satisfaction, but she ends up seeing her symptoms in some other people loosely connected to her rapist, and also in her own father. She learns to accept that she has been in denial for so long and that she indeed is still exhibiting symptoms of trauma.
Jessica could hardly remember much about the day she was raped. She had forgotten most of the details and continues to forget them even after reading the police reports on the rape, including her own statements. She is understandably angry that much of her life hinged on that one night. Her narration is occasionally venomous, as she contemplates potential scenarios with her rapist. She wants to kill him, and she doesn't mince words confessing that. But in the same vein, she admits her guilt at being plagued by such demonic thoughts.
Would I ever heal? No, I would not. I would become someone else.Denial was a very powerful read for me. I struggled to connect during the first 50 pages with the narration but soon I warmed up to it and couldn't put the book down. Jessica introduces us to several stark characters - some endearing, some not, whose actions stay with me long after I closed the book. There is the grandfather who has naked showers with her, the research assistant who knows what Jessica is going through, since he has seen it in his own father, another victim of the same rapist who was ashamed of her own body for many years. Then there is Jessica's troubled childhood. Jessica often tries to postpone the inevitable - meeting with a friend of the rapist or with the police lieutenant who has been helping her get information. At these times, she starts worrying about mundane things and keeps repeating her actions. At other times, she gets increasingly rude even though she doesn't mean to.
Some people's lives seem to flow in a narrative; mine had many stops and starts. That's what trauma does. It interrupts the plot. You can't process it because it doesn't fit with what came before or what comes afterward. A friend of mine, a soldier, put it this way. In most of our lives, most of the time, you have a sense of what is to come. There is a steady narrative, a feeling of "lights, camera, action" when big events are imminent. But trauma isn't like that. It just happens, and then life goes on. No one prepares you for it.
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I received this book for free from the publisher via TLC Book Tours.