This is an excellent work of literary fiction, well written, moving and thought provoking, in fact, at times, downright disturbing. Truly, if we didn’t find it disturbing, there’d be something wrong with us. In just a few scenes we are shown that, despite our laws, there is still precious little justice for rape victims today. Are they really going to ask that fifteen year old to stand up in public and identify her father as her rapist? Yes, they are, and there is nothing the women can do to stop it.
Farris has taken the heart-wrenching topic of incestuous sexual abuse and approached it bravely. She has delved into the guilt, the shame and the horror felt by the victim, a fifteen year old girl raped many times by her father, and the girl’s mother, a high powered lawyer who spent more time at work than she did with her daughter. This absence from the daughter’s life in pursuit of a career is a topic that many women and, I hope, men will relate to. Phoebe couldn’t have become her father’s play thing if her mother had been around all those nights. So, of course, Helen, the mother, feels enormously guilty. The revelation also shocks her to near breaking point.
Her relationship with her husband wasn’t great, but she never thought that he would be in an pedophile group or that he would spike his daughter’s drink with a date rape drug and video his sick games so he could show his online friends. Helen finds the video and, traumatised by the sight of her husband raping her daughter, whacks him with a golf club when he returns home. He falls, hits his head and dies in hospital.
And that’s just the beginning. Will Helen be tried for murder? And what about the rest of the pedophile ring that the father had invited over to fuck his daughter the next night? The author relates just enough of their online conversation for us to know that these men are truly dangerous.
Yes, it’s heavy stuff, but at least Helen knows to take Phoebe to a safe house, and at least Helen has money and friends. I couldn’t help wondering about women and girls in this kind of situation who don’t have those kinds of resources. It would be an even bigger hell.
If it’s sounding too miserable for you, don’t be put off because the story actually has a lot of heart and it comes from the women who support and care for each other. Helen and Phoebe end up in a safe house in the country and Helen gets excellent councillors and a smart sassy lawyer who has her own background of abuse. The inner turmoil and conflicting emotions of the characters come out slowly and in ever deepening layers, like peeling an onion. The revelations to their therapists, and Phoebe eventually confronting her mother are expertly plotted and paced for maximum affect. We discover the depth of the betrayal, the things her father told her to keep her compliant and the effect it’s had on Phoebe. It’s all too believable and terribly sad. We are left in no doubt as to the long term effects of such abuse.
The story is held together with a very strong sense of danger from the remaining men. The police are supposed to find them, they find two, but the third remains at large, and they don’t know who he is. By the time they find out, it is almost too late.
We hear the voice of this man in small snippets throughout the book. He’s there in the back ground like our worst nightmare. He’s the evil in the shadows, the monster beneath the bed. He represents unbridled lust without conscience. The women’s characters are all expertly drawn. I cared deeply for them. They were real people to me.
In contrast, the man is a cardboard cut out, but he should be. More rounded characterisation would give him too much power. It would detract from the women, and this is the women’s story. We only need to know the man in his role as abuser, the rest is irrelevant here. Also, he is much more fearsome as a shadow. Once a fear becomes known, it is no longer so scary.
If I was to be picky, I might say that it was too easy to pick who the third man was, and that certain things in the story were a little too convenient, like the Olympic horse rider and Carl’s boyfriend being a therapist, but they really didn’t matter. It was a great story and ultimately one of hope, for it showed that with the right kind of support, victims of abuse† can heal, start over and make a good life for themselves.
I highly recommend this book, especially to men.