books and reading

My Dark Vanessa

I first heard of this book because it had been rejected from Oprah’s book club for being too intense. Which is surprising to me, because a lot of her book choices involve heavy stuff. She’s Come Undone (which is so old now, I can’t even believe it) was groundbreaking for me when I was younger at how detailed a book could be. But we live in a different world than in 1992, when Wally Lamb wrote his book, and Oprah is probably being more aware of her audience.

I read Tampa by Alissa Nutting a few years ago. Wow. The level of shock was one I wasn’t expecting. This story followed a female teacher who was sexually attracted to middle school age boys. And, of course, she was a teacher. This pedophile (not to mince words) was really hard to sympathize with. And the graphic descriptions of the sex were, well, detailed. It was a great book, but very tough. My Dark Vanessa tells the same story, but from the victim’s perspective. Both Nutting and Kate Elizabeth Russell tell their stories exquisitely and accurately. The obsession, the grooming, the blaming, etc that we’ve all heard from people who have been in positions of power over men and women who struggle every day with the trauma they have endured.

My Dark Vanessa is an important book, though. It gives voice to a victim and provides strength to anyone who has gone through this to see themselves in the same position. Representation matters. It also provides those of us who have not experienced this trauma to see what life is like for those who have. If you read this book and don’t empathize with Vanessa, then you definitely will need to check yourself. It is impossible to read it with a closed mind and a cold heart. This story is clearly told for all the Vanessas out there (as says the dedication), and we need to be listening.