Sunday, January 20, 2019

#2 [2019/CBR11] "Lucky" by Alice Sebold

I already knew Alice Sebold from The Lovely Bones, but I had not heard of Lucky (1999) by the same author until I saw it on my 50 Books Every Woman Should Read Before She Turns 40 List. Written just before The Lovely Bones, it is the true story of Sebold's violent rape, on the last day of her first year of college. This book was good. It was well written, tense, often difficult to read, and eye-opening. Sebold is very honest about the rape and how it affected her. Although this is on a list of books for women to read, I kept thinking it would be a good book for men to read as well.

The book begins immediately with a detailed, disturbing account of everything that happened to Sebold on her last night in Syracuse after her first year of college. Walking back to her dorm through a park, she is attacked by a stranger in an ordeal that lasts more than an hour. The rapist is violent, disturbed, and frightening. After reading this, I got up and checked the locks on my front door--something I never bother to do. Sebold tries to get away and then does her best to stay alive. Eventually, the rapist lets her go, and she manages to walk back to her dorm before getting medical care and giving a report to the police.

If you forget that this is a personal memoir, this book could almost read as a crime thriller or an episode of Law & Order SVU. Sebold bravely goes back to Syracuse the next year and sees her rapist in the street. She contacts the police and he is arrested on her description. The trial process is difficult, but Sebold views it as a battle and prevails. She goes into great detail of what she was thinking and her testimony at both the grand jury and trial. Even after the trial, Sebold had a lot to deal with. If this wasn't a true story, I might have thought, "Okay, that's enough, let her heal."

Sebold did a fantastic job with contrasting her life before and after the rape in a way that stuck with me. She described the fun, flirtatious pictures she was taking just a few hours before she was raped--a carefree college student having fun with a boy she liked--and the crime scene photos taken after at the hospital and the police station--a new girl, haunted and broken. Sebold also discussed how she had a hard time relating to her friends and the difficulty in coming back to school where she was known as "the girl who was raped." People she didn't know or barely knew were using their proximity to her trauma for their own social gain.

It seems that society is slowly becoming better about helping women deal with sexual assault. The process of police reports and trials have improved slightly, but there is still a long ways to go. I completely understand why women would not want to put themselves through the trauma of reliving all of that horror only to most likely see their rapist walk away in the end. Sebold was raped in 1981, ages ago when it comes to the treatment of women in rape cases. Sebold had to deal with a lot of biases and prejudices when it came to her case, even though, in many ways, she was a "good victim" from a prosecutor's point of view. She was a virgin, white, and a well-spoken college student. She'd been wearing a sweater and jeans and had been completely sober. Her rapist was a stranger and she fought him with tons of corroborating physical wounds. I was scared and disturbed while reading about Sebold's rape, but it was the aftermath that stressed me out because I kept waiting for her to be mistreated by the "good guys."

Sebold had to deal with a lot of ignorant, insensitive comments. The policemen told her she was "lucky" not to have been killed--that another girl had been dismembered in that same spot in the park. The day after the rape, her father said that if it had to happen to one of you (Sebold or her sister), it was good that it happened to Sebold. (I think this was more of an awkward father trying to compliment his daughter that she was emotionally tough, but it did not come out well). The grand jury asked Sebold over and over again why she was walking in the park alone at night. The defense attorney asked what she was wearing. And Sebold found out years later that the cop that took her statement did not initially believe her! Finally, Sebold's father couldn't understand why Sebold didn't get away from her rapist once he dropped the knife. I cannot even imagine what Sebold would have had to go through if she did not fit the profile of a "good victim" in a rape case.

I'd recommend this book as an honest and detailed picture of one woman's rape and how it affected her. Sebold stated that she wanted to lose some of the mystery around rape by writing openly about her own, and I appreciate her courage. I found myself talking about this book a lot with my friends. Because I was so bothered by it, it wasn't one I could easily digest on my own.

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