Saturday, August 7, 2010

Denial: A Memoir of Terror

Denial: A Memoir of Terror

Product Description

"I have listened and I have been quiet all my life. But now I will speak."
One of the world's foremost experts on terrorism and post-traumatic stress disorder investigates her own unsolved adolescent sexual assault at the hands of a serial rapist, and in so doing, examines the horrors of trauma and denial.
Alone in an unlocked house in a safe neighborhood in the suburban town of Concord, Massachusetts, two good, obedient girls, Jessica Stern, fifteen, and her sister, fourteen, were raped on the night of October 1, 1973. The girls had just come back from ballet lessons and were doing their homework when a strange man armed with a gun entered their home. Afterward, when they reported the crime, the police were skeptical.

The rapist was never caught. For over thirty years, Stern denied the pain and the trauma of the assault. Following the example of her family, Stern—who lost her mother at the age of three, and whose father was a Holocaust survivor—focused on her work instead of her terror. She became a world-class expert on terrorism, a lauded academic and writer who interviewed terrorists around the globe. But while her career took off, her success hinged on her symptoms. After her ordeal she could not feel fear in normally frightening situations.

Stern believed she'd disassociated from the trauma altogether, until a devoted police lieutenant reopened the sisters' rape case and brought her back to that harrowing night more than three decades past. With the help of the lieutenant, Stern began her own investigation—bringing to bear all her skills as a researcher—to uncover the truth about the town of Concord, her family, and her own mind. The result is Denial, a candid, courageous, and ultimately hopeful look at a trauma and its aftermath.

My take:  I have been dreading writing this review for a couple of days.  I didn't like the book.  I was disappointed which says something for my own expectations rather than the author.  Given the author's expertise and academic accomplishment, I expected to be "wowed" by her insight and experience.  Instead I felt like I was reading a teenager's diary which would actually make a lot of sense, since she hasn't opened this compartment since the horrific experience when she was 15.

What made it feel like a diary of a teenager was the constant exploration of personal interpretation, innuendo, and perception.  Dr. Stern provides an inner dialogue of her journey from the moment the detective calls her to the publication of her book.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, I simply thought it contained irrelevant information along with some golden nuggets.  For instance, while talking with any number of people, the conversation is reported verbatim, which I liked.  On the inside, the author is contemplating birds, surfaces, and discusses the way the person uses verb tense.  Many of these inner dialogues come to naught. 

Additionally, the author suffers from disturbing thoughts and images, which I believe is not uncommon.  What bothered me is the innuendo that her grandfather performed sexual acts upon her prior to her rape.  Yet this is never explored nor addressed.  Did he?  Don't know.  So was that tidbit relevant?  I don't know.  The reader seeks closure.

What I liked about the book is that the author weaves the similarities of terror and the different ways of integrating the terror-inducing experiences through stories of her father's history during the Holocaust, soldiers who have suffered from PTSD, and people who have been traumatized by sexual acts. 

I very much enjoyed Dr. Stern's epilogue, where she uses her professional experience and knowledge to tie the above mentioned groups together.  Dr. Stern is intelligent, articulate, and experienced.  Her experiences were simply horrific.  Writing a memoir, I believe, was very therapeutic for her.  I also do not doubt that many people will find her journey interesting and helpful. 

For me, it was a solid 3 star experience.


Jo said...

Interesting post! I read this because I was curious about the book after reading a review in the New York Times. I also had some mixed feelings while I was reading.

CountessLaurie said...

Hmmmm.... I will leave this as a maybe.

Tiffany Harkleroad said...

I did not like this either, and found it hard to review.