Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Suffer the children

This book hurts. It is awful to listen to. There is nothing to feel good about once you get to the end, except that your pain is over. Unfortunately, it will continue to haunt you. In a few weeks, I'll be booktalking to a group of teen girls in a residential treatment school and I've been informed that they eat up "sob story-type memoirs," but I just don't know if I can take them this. Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott is pure horror from beginning to end. And to some of the girls there, it might not be fiction.

Alice tells us her story -- in a weird stream of consciousness trail that moves from first, to third to second person. Five years ago, she was abducted by Ray when she was 10 years old. Raped and continually forced into sex with Ray, she lives with him in "homeschooled" squalor about four hours from her former home. She is permitted out on errands for Ray, but he keeps her in thrall by threatening to kill her parents should she leave. On her forays into the outside world, however, no one cares to see that she needs help. We look the other way.

Ray likes little girls, and Alice -- the name given to her by Ray -- knows that her survival depends on preserving the fiction that she is not a maturing teen. She endures starvation and the waxing of her pubic hair to put off the inevitable. Then, Alice sees a glimmer of hope in something terrible: If she finds a replacement for herself -- another young girl -- she can be free of Ray. I think this was the most horrific part of the novel (which includes no graphic descriptions of sex, although the violence is vivid): that Ray has subsumed Alice so completely that she has become the monster that he is. Not surprising, of course, but since you keep glimpsing the girl that Alice was, it is exceedingly distressing. That girl's name is Kyla.

So, imagine reading this book. Now imagine listening. It is so much more immediate to hear the voice of this child. So much more visceral, so much more difficult to set aside. Alice is imprinted in my brain. Narrator Kate Reinders reads with little affect -- utterly appropriate for a girl whose life depends on suppressing her feelings. She maintains the stream of consciousness feeling by reading rapidly (but not too fast). When Alice can't keep the fear at bay, Reinders shockingly erupts with emotion. It's a masterful narration. But how do I recommend it?

I listened to this novel this weekend as it is relatively short and I was between long ones. It was an even more disturbing choice considering the news about Jaycee Dugard. I can't get any of these victims -- real or imagined -- out of my mind.

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