Thursday, July 15, 2010

Denial: A Memoir of Terror by Jessica Stern

Rating 2/5

I had to stop reading this book half-way through and take a break for a few days because I was having a very visceral reaction to it. It wasn't the subject matter so much as the way it was written. Firstly, the prose was jolting - so many short sentences - and made me feel almost sea-sick. Secondly, Stern talks a lot about her disassociative states, and it seems to me the whole book had a disassociated feel about it. She names emotions but you don't get the sense she identifies with them or is unable to really explain or understand them. Obviously, that is not her fault, it is a result of her trauma. It just makes it hard for the reader to fully engage with her, since she's not fully engaged with herself.

Stern shifts back and forth between her life, her rape investigation, PTSD theory, and terrorism. These subjects are indeed related, but somehow she fails to articulate the connections in a way that satisfies me. And the switching between these ideas and the way that she approaches them - sometimes intensely personal, sometimes academic - is also jarring and interrupts flow and interest.

It also seems to me that her father's concerns over the way he has been characterized has influenced her book to the point where she's not been completely honest. I sense an extreme ambivalence despite the author's efforts to insist how great he is and how much she loves him. She *should* be ambivalent. I also think that an author of a memoir shouldn't cater her book to the feelings of the people in it. Either tell it like it is or leave it out completely.
In general, this book was interesting, but difficult to read. I'm sure my responses to it have to do with my own emotional issues at least as much as the writing itself. In any case, I have read far more engaging memoirs about abuse. Please know that I'm evaluating *the book* here, and not judging the author. She has lived through hell, and is still trying to heal.

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