The main source of stories about rape that I have had come from the radio, the newspapers or the television. You know what this means? Let me tell you. It means that the language used to tell these rape stories is sanitized. Euphemisms are used to describe horrible scenes. Tears replace words when the victims talk about their experiences. But most of all, these people who tell their rape stories are always faceless, nameless and homeless.
For the first time in my life, however, I have gotten the whole story about rape. Complete with the face of the victim, her home address and her thought processes including the beyond the rape encounter.
Alice Sebold opened this whole complete world to me through her memoir: Lucky.
In this impossible to put down encounter, Alice narrates her rape experience as a virginal 18 year old freshman (first year student) at Syracuse University. Without mincing words, Sebold describes, in depth, the details of what happened to her in a tunnel one night on the way to her hostel. She then goes with us through the immediate empty moments which she experiences right after the rape, including the embarrassing stares as she walks to her campus residence to get help and then takes us to the hospital with her. From there, she takes us home to her parents and older sister. We experience firsthand the confusion that her family has to go through in accepting the fact that she has been raped; and they now know a rape victim personally. Each of the family members deals with the situation their own way… her father, the serious academician and who had always been distant seemed to grow even more distant, his mother who had had various marital issues to deal with and personality flaws to sort out applied a bit of escapism and confrontation but in unequaled proportions so this did not necessarily help.
There had always been a gap between Alice Sebold and her big sister and navigating this gap to deal with the rape is also a task. Then of course there are the curious neighbours who come to see her and witness how a rape victim looks like.
No doubt, Sebold has to deal with so many confusing and straining emotions just at the threshold of adulthood and as she puts it, “In life, you either save yourself or you remain unsaved.” This is exactly what she manages to do by the time one turns the final page of the book.
The story has a happy ending however because the rapist is apprehended, taken to court and put behind bars. But so much has changed and Sebold’s life is already divided into two: before the rape incident and after the rape incident. Her worldview has changed. The way she relates to the members of the opposite sex also changes and for a while before she completely heals, she sees the rape as something that changes the essence of who she is, until she recovers physically, emotionally and psychologically.
This book has several surprises. To begin with, as gloomy as the story is, you find yourself laughing at the funny stuffs that happen within the story. I think the humor is used to relax the mood in the story and make it bearable. But to be able to appropriate humor even in a storm like the one presented in this book is for me a mark of a good story teller.
Another surprise found in this book in the writer’s ability to describe gory details with so much tact. She communicates in a way that says she wants to be wholly and properly understood as much as she wants the effect of her story felt right to the bone marrow.
As a biography, the book passes the mark of plain documentation that would have otherwise been a series of painful encounters to a brightly written and colorful creative piece that will effortlessly sieve through your senses and make your brain have to deal with entertainment and information in a very critical sense which I must admit, is a novelty for many personal stories I have read.
Alice Sebold is also the author of My Lovely Bones.
Lucky was originally published by Back Bay Books, USA and it is available at Prestige bookshop and probably at other book points in the country.
Here are four reasons why Lucky should be on your reading list:
I. Alice is very candid in her presentation, she lets you in on her very private thoughts and this, for a memoir, increases the verisimilitude hence making it a good read.
II. It will give you a complete first hand story about rape so whether you are a researcher on sexual violence against women and how it affects them, whether you have been affected directly or indirectly by a rape ordeal, this book not only provides solace, it is also a platform to help you compare notes.
III. This book will teach you how to be empathetic and compassionate to the victims of rape. Sebold’s family for a large part does not know just what to do and through Sebold’s own thoughts and how her family eventually fumbles through to reach her emotional state, the reader has the opportunity of learning from this experience.
IV. This is a beautifully written story and if you are a creative writer or aspiring to be one, then you are going to learn a few things about strong sentence construction, how to keep it simple and classy when writing and most importantly, you will learn the art of combining sarcasm, satire, humor and irony in one sentence, not a mean feat.