Discussion: Lucky by Alice Sebold
Author: Sebold, Alice
Length: 246 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Women’s Issues
Publisher / Year: Back Bay Books / 1999
Source: Lent to me by a coworker.
Why I Read It: It was highly recommended to me and lent to me by a coworker.
Date Read: 24/02/11
Sometimes going into a book blind isn’t the best idea because you get hit with something that you really aren’t prepared for. In this case, a book about a violent rape, its aftermath, and the prosecution of it. Definitely a heavy subject and one that I likely shouldn’t have read when I did, but that is not to say that it wasn’t an incredibly interesting and important book.
Rape is one of those areas of human existence where common sense and normality is completely turned on its head. Normal rules do not apply, and it is hard to even comprehend the rules that do exist. Why do I say this? For the same reasons that Sebold can be called ‘lucky’. Sebold is lucky because she wasn’t murdered (according to the police officer she reported it to), but also she was lucky because of facts like:
- She was a virgin when she was raped.
- She was wearing loose clothing at the time.
- She had no drugs or alcohol in her system.
- She didn’t know her rapist.
- She was physically injured and carried multiple signs of physical attack.
- She was white and her rapist was black. (You can bet this will be discussed more below.)
- She ran into him again on the street months later and was able to identify him.
NONE of those things should be called lucky in any sense of the word, but in our (Canada seems similar to the US in this so I will use the our term here to indication the US and Canada) justice systems, those things are all that can help to guarantee a conviction.
I’m slightly offended by all of the goodreads reviews that talk about Sebold’s ‘holier than thou’ survivor mentality. Now, I’m not quite sure where the anger comes from but perhaps it is from the sections where she discusses the disconnect she feels between herself and her family and friends at times. I don’t know how anyone can judge that though without being through it themselves. The book really highlights that disconnect and how you try to push it all aside and believe you’re fine, and how many people will discount your feelings and emotions as being overreacting or ridiculous. None of which is helpful in actually dealing with anything.
What the book really highlighted for me was the way that our culture views rape. This is the ‘perfect’ scenario for the crime which rarely happens yet is the only kind we will allow to be discussed. We don’t talk about intimate partner rape, we don’t talk about how usually the victim knows the rapist, how usually there is denial, how there is more coercion and guilt and less physical force or evidence. I really wished that Sebold had talked about that a little bit more. For anyone who’s been through rape as it happens for the masses (i.e. not those ‘lucky’ few) the experience is completely different and traumatizing in such different ways in part because of this myth that exists. Sebold talks about her fathers reaction when he hears that the rapist didn’t have a knife to her throat the whole time – what of those of us on whom a weapon was never drawn? While we are able to pinpoint some similarities the thrust of this book in one way shows us how we failed in the eyes of the justice system by not having that perfect crime. It reinforces those officers who tell us there is nothing they can do because they don’t want to believe anything other than the myth.
Sebold’s method isn’t to discuss the failings of the system but rather to lay out what happened to her. In a way any reader should be able to pinpoint the issues (for example, she was advised to wear a skirt to the trial to look more feminine and innocent) and be angered by them. I would, though, really like another book that talks about those issues more in-depth. It wasn’t what Sebold set out to write but it would definitely make for interesting reading.
Now, the one thing that really bothered me in this book… the race of her rapist is made to be a big deal. I understand that the justice system is messed and that showed in her favor (that fact alone makes me sick) but as with the other things that shouldn’t be relevant and yet somehow are, this should be simply that. Stated as a fact that shows us how messed up our system is but not delved in to. In this instance, however, it is not. Immediately after the rape when she returns to her dorm her friends black boyfriend gives her a hug because he wants to apologize on behalf of black men and doesn’t want her to judge them based on what the rapist did. Ummmmm really? When would that ever happen with, say, a white male? I found it disturbing and wrong. This fact, I think, should not have been let just slide without more discussion. One man’s actions should never be taken as that of an entire group. (Hence my continued exploration of a culture and literature even though I began it to learn more about one person who had been important to me previously.)
Overall, really interesting book that I would recommend to all those who can handle the brutal descriptions contained in the first few pages. I’d love others to read it specifically because I’d love to hear what others think especially of the justice system as it is described in the book. I have turned comments off for this post but do feel free to email me if you’ve read the book and want to discuss.