Review of “After Silence: Rape & My Journey Back”

“After Silence: Rape and My Journey Back” by Nancy Venable Raine is a memoir that is well-written and emotionally charged. In the introduction, the author says that the police told her that she “was lucky not to have been murdered.” That is how horrible it is to be raped: it is a crime so heinous as to be associated with murder. However, the author did not feel lucky. She felt alone, especially since rape is shrouded in silence, shame, and stigma.

It’s the victim that carries those negative feelings, and Raine explains the emotional capacity of a rape victim in heart wrenching detail. Fear is the most obvious, superseding other feelings no matter the occasion. Fear and the fear of fear rises, taking up a permanent place in the psyche that did not exist before the rape. Raine develops a “before” identity and an “after” identity, and can never get back to the woman who had not been raped.

Raine digs deep into her psyche and the culture to explore both the individual and the society in the context of sexual violence. Throughout this thought-provoking book, Raine weaves commentary by using a variety of references, such as fiction and its treatment of rape scenes as well as literature from psychology. She writes about PTSD, quoting Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery extensively. Raine explains, “For traumatic experience, ‘forgetting’ is impossible, yet ‘remembering’ s the last thing you want to do.” Her exploration into her self is painful, yet anyone who reads this will benefit from her insight and intelligence.

Review completed by Lynn C. Tolson, Beyond the Tears: A True Survivor’s Story

Review of “Picking Cotton”

Review of Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton with Erin Torneo

Picking Cotton is co-authored by a victim of rape and the man who was falsely accused of the crime, with the assistance of writer Erin Torneo. The format alternates from Jennifer’s to Ronald’s perspectives and the story reads like a documentary.

Picking Cotton opens with a “happily ever after” prologue that took decades to reach. The interim was an excruciating journey of mistakes and misery. Within the story, there are racial issues to explore, as well as pros and cons in the criminal justice system.

The story starts with Jennifer’s point of view. After briefly establishing her routines and relationships for the readers, we see how her college life is immeasurably altered when she is raped. Jennifer endures the examination at the hospital; she has to repeatedly tell the details to detectives; she faces the disengaged attitudes of her family and boyfriend. In these relationships, the reader sees a victim-blaming society in action: Jennifer’s mother wonders if what she wore had something to do with being attacked; Jennifer’s boyfriend asks her if she enjoyed it. Jennifer courageously moves through the legal system, and eventually moves on.

On the local news, Ronald sees that the police are searching for him as a suspect. Only twenty-two years old, his simple life becomes immeasurably complicated when he is arrested. He is treated as though he were already found guilty. Ronald is equally courageous as he moves through a legal system that is out to get him, no matter what. Ronald spends more than a decade in prison, acclimating to the dismal culture of those incarcerated for life. He is guilty until DNA proves him innocent. He has to start over.

This book needed to be written so that readers witness the capacity of human will, the fate from human error, and the resiliency of spirit from both sides of the story.

Review completed by advocate and author Lynn C. Tolson, Beyond the Tears: A True Survivor’s Story

Review of “Lucky”

Lucky by Alice Sebold was published in 1999 and has hundreds of editorial and reader reviews. It is a seminal memoir on the subject of rape, giving permission to other victims to break their silence. The book is so important, it merits opinion eleven years later.

The book begins with the terrifying experience of the author being raped. It’s graphic, it’s real, and it hurts to read. Alice was able to tell the events in a clear voice that could have gotten lost in the chaos of the long ordeal. A memoir about rape is a writing nightmare, yet Sebold creates enough connection between author and reader to generate compassion for the victim and rage at the perpetrator. Then, he apologized!

Alice had few friends to run to, and relied on acquaintances and strangers to help her in the aftermath, which is ugly, painful, and infinite. Within the story, the reader will find exactly how a rape victims feels: “damaged goods, ruined.” Or from a different planet.

Sebold examines her family dynamics as she tries to recover. It appears that each member of her family lives on a different planet, revolving around each other but never really making contact. Her mother has anxiety; her father is isolated; her sister is perfect. This sets Alice up for taking the journey alone while trying to maintain her sanity, a grade point average, and the court proceedings.

The transcripts of the court proceedings are long and arduous. One can only imagine what it must have been like for Alice to be the witness in her rape trial, being put on the spot, with soiled underwear sworn into evidence. You’ll find clever comments by Sebold that help the reader grasp intonations of sarcasm and scorn from the perpetrator’s attorneys. Sebold was strong enough to survive when others would have folded.

Alice admitted to a common result of sexual violence, which is using drugs to escape. She discovered that she has post-traumatic stress disorder. She does not sugar-coat the violence that is rape, the intimidation that is the criminal justice system, or the ironies of life that is stranger than any fiction.

Review completed by advocate and author Lynn C. Tolson, Beyond the Tears: A True Survivor’s Story