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Tiger, Tiger
March 7, 2011 11:21 AM   Subscribe

Margaux Fragoso met Peter Curran when she was 7 and he was 51. For the next 15 years until his suicide, they had a hidden, violent and sexually abusive relationship. Her new memoir, Tiger, Tiger is being likened to a "reverse, true-life Lolita," told from the perspective of Delores Haze's character, which in some ways humanizes the pedophile who preyed upon her without excusing him.

The book's prologue is available through Book Browse, and Salon.com recently published a condensed excerpt by Fragoso. Some may find the descriptions at the salon.com link disturbing.

The Globe and Mail has a review with an accompanying author interview: Deconstructing the Monster.

Additional Reviews:
* The National Post
* New York Observer
* Buffalo News

Nearly every review notes that the memoir depicts graphic sex acts, and mention that the clinical frankness of the book's narrative is likely to be disquieting for readers.
Fragoso explains, in the afterword, her motives for doing the book. They are both therapeutic and public-spirited: She has written to inform the world how pedophiles operate and how they think, so that they might be preempted by parents and the authorities before they can do harm. She has written to help herself to heal. She is married, with a daughter, though the details of exactly how she broke the cycle of madness and abuse are left (one suspects) for the sequel. But something in Fragoso’s flights of wild lyricism resists the therapeutic motive. A pedophile creates a “fantastic kind of reality” that can feel “like a drug high,” she writes. “And when it’s over, for people who’ve been through this, it’s like coming off heroin, and for years, they can’t stop chasing the ghost of how it felt … It’s like the Earth is scorched and the grass won’t grow back. And the ground looks black and barren, but inside it’s still burning.”
posted by zarq (56 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
From the Times article:
So who — other than voyeurs looking for a sustained close-up of a pedophile in action — will want to read this book? To bear witness to a numbingly long series of violations of a child by a man who has honed his wickedness for decades is not more pleasant than it sounds. As a society we energetically oppose sexual abuse; as individuals most of us shy away from investigating a relationship characterized by creepy kisses and inappropriate fondling. Worse, we defend cowardice by calling it discretion — minding our own business. Maybe a book like “Tiger, Tiger” can help us be a little braver. Certainly, it took courage to write.

The real cost of a broken taboo is that the revulsion it awakens allows predators freedom to claim one victim after another: because we glance away from crimes — abominations — prevented only by vigilance, the most disheartening aspect of this story is sickeningly familiar. Years before meeting Fragoso, Curran forged papers to marry a 15-year-old; he “hurt” his daughters from a second marriage by “being sexual with” them; during the two years Fragoso’s parents were sufficiently responsible to keep their daughter separated from him, Curran was accused of molesting one of the children he fostered for the state of New Jersey. “Tiger, Tiger” offers us yet another opportunity to open our eyes and redeem ourselves.
Also, some of Fragoso's poems are available online:
* Tiger Bride
* Sugar, Spice and Everything
* The Knockings on the Walls
* Tooth Fairy
posted by zarq at 11:23 AM on March 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Funny - I just came across a critique of this book at Tenured Radical, who finds the book pretty poorly written.
posted by entropone at 11:37 AM on March 7, 2011


From the Times article

---

Kathryn Harrison is the author of “The Kiss” and other books.

I'm reminded of when an Academy Award was given to a documentary about spousal abuse and the cameras cut to Laurence Fishburne in the audience - who had portrayed Ike Turner that year.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:38 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


entropone: Funny - I just came across a critique of this book at Tenured Radical, who finds the book pretty poorly written

If You Are Considering Writing A Memoir About Your Childhood Sexual Abuse....
...Don't.


Well, that's helpful.
posted by dng at 11:40 AM on March 7, 2011


There not a single likable, compelling or interesting character in the book, including Fragoso.

Stupid life. So unlike fiction.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:42 AM on March 7, 2011 [36 favorites]


Remember Lo's Diary?
posted by hermitosis at 11:45 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Without having clicked through - not sure I want to do that at work - I wonder how valid Fragoso's observations/investigations/speculations of Curran's mind and perspective are. Are victims best placed to understand their oppressors/aggressors? Maybe they are? I think this book can only be an exploration of Fragoso's mind as a victim, and how she perceived and perhaps sympathised with Curran. That's still valuable - it's just different from what we're being sold, I think.

And again, let me emphasise, I'm making this point having only read one PR article and this post.
posted by doublehappy at 11:45 AM on March 7, 2011


dng, the post continues beyond that.
posted by entropone at 11:50 AM on March 7, 2011


I can easily see why people would be afraid to understand how a pedophile
feels or how they function. The discomfort of even the opportunity to
empathize with them as human beings brings you one step closer to the line
between them and us, and everyone knows if you get too close to the line
you might cross it. Or someone might think you are showing too much
interest in the topic.

Pedophilia is such a dangerous topic that even things that are not pedophilia, but
that superficially resemble it, are too hazardous to discuss or portray. Sally Mann,
the photographer, and to a much greater degree Jock Sturges were controversial
because of the resemblance of their work to child pornography.

I have to mention Sgt. Hatred from the Venture Brothers cartoon here as a
atypically sympathetic portrayal of a pedophile.
posted by the Real Dan at 11:51 AM on March 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


doublehappy: " I think this book can only be an exploration of Fragoso's mind as a victim, and how she perceived and perhaps sympathised with Curran. That's still valuable - it's just different from what we're being sold, I think. "

I read all the articles and the excerpts while making the FPP.

I suspect that Curran's methods are not unusual, and that we can extrapolate certain warnings from them. As a parent, don't leave your children in the care of another adult unless you are aware of what is happening when you are not present. Don't disengage from your child emotionally. Remember that bad people can't be identified on sight -- one of the comments made in the prologue is that pedophiles tend to be nice, polite people. Which may be counter to a parent's assumptions. Margaux's mother had herself been abused, but did not realize that Peter was a danger. There are no doubt other, general warning signs to watch out for.

All of this may seem like common sense. And yet, perhaps it isn't. Curran had multiple victims, including his own daughters.

I don't necessarily know that Fragoso's entirely comfortable with the idea that her feelings and experiences (which I agree with you are unique to her) should establish any sort of general victim profile.
posted by zarq at 11:59 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


You know you don't have to press enter to start a new line, right?
posted by doublehappy at 12:00 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just read the Prologue-- I don't agree that it's badly written, but she does need to dial down her style a little bit: nobody actually speaks the kind of language she's put in quotation marks ("One girl said that it’s like the earth is scorched and the grass won’t grow back. And the ground looks black and barren but inside it’s still burning”). But I think the power of this book is undeniable, that writing it was a dangerous combination of bravery and self-promotion, and that she's likely created something new.
posted by jokeefe at 12:14 PM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


All of this may seem like common sense. And yet, perhaps it isn't.

The media myth of the pedophile is someone who is socially outcast and weird, even obviously creepy looking.

The reality is that a lot of pedophiles (and abusers of all types) are central members to their communities, which then, in turn, protect the abusers because the community is not willing to deal with the social cost and fallout of having to hold them accountable.

Which is to say, people seem to only apply "common sense" to people who mark themselves out to fit the media stereotype, rather than, you know, the congressman sexting a teenager.
posted by yeloson at 12:16 PM on March 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


I can add but little except this:
1. forget comparisons to Nabokov for a number of reasons.
2. two weeks ago, a guy now in his 60s told us at a small gathering that as a very young lad, he had been sexually abused by a camp counselor, a guy well known in basketball. He was afraid to tell his parents or anyone else and so for a number of summers, he was sent back to the camp and was again abused. When he read that the camp counselor had died years later, he was overjoyed...only now, this many years later, was he able to talk openly about what had happened.
posted by Postroad at 12:18 PM on March 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I would contend that anyone who compares this book with Lolita is deluded. Yes, the book is about pedophilia and child abuse. End of comparison.

Nabokov taught himself English in 6 weeks and then wrote one of the most stunning literary masterpieces of the 20th Century. The vividness of the imagery, the stunning narrative style, and the incredible vocabulary evidenced by an English amateur, coupled with an incredible discussion of one of the most difficult-to-discuss subjects in human life make it what it is.

The comparison of these two books is akin to saying that Lincoln and G.W. Bush are mirror images because they were both presidents.
posted by Alcibiades. at 1:19 PM on March 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I should be clear: I also commend this woman for her courage, and my heart goes out to any who suffer such horrible trauma. Robbing a child of childhood is one of the gravest individual crimes I can conceive of, and I do not wish to contend that because she is not Nabokov, that this story is in any way unworthy of anything aside from a comparison with Lolita.
posted by Alcibiades. at 1:22 PM on March 7, 2011


> Nabokov taught himself English in 6 weeks

What?! Where do people get these ideas? Nabokov began learning English as a small child in Russia; in fact, he claimed (somewhat implausibly) that he learned to write English before Russian.
posted by languagehat at 1:53 PM on March 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


Nabokov taught himself English in 6 weeks and then wrote one of the most stunning literary masterpieces of the 20th Century.

Where did you hear that?

Nabokov's childhood, which he called "perfect", was remarkable in several ways. The family spoke Russian, English, and French in their household, and Nabokov was trilingual from an early age. In fact, much to his patriotic father's chagrin, Nabokov could read and write English before he could Russian.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 1:57 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've got pretty mixed feelings about this kind of memoir. On the one hand, I see the value of validating someone who's speaking out. On the other, I suspect that most such memoirs are bought and consumed out of a prurient fascination with the subject matter. And then there's the fact that if it's at least powerfully composed, even if not well-written, it can ensure one a place in the literary-academic complex, as it appears to be in the process of doing for Ms. Fragoso.

As for Nabokov & his language mastery, Lolita was published many years after he emigrated to the US. When it was published he'd been serving for a good while as Curator of Butterflies at Harvard. where his colleagues apparently knew nothing about his literary efforts.
posted by lodurr at 2:11 PM on March 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Robbing a child of childhood is one of the gravest individual crimes I can conceive of

He wasn't the only one who robbed her of her childhood. I don't condone his behavior at all, but I do wish that people would look at what led her being interested in him in the first place.
posted by Melismata at 2:22 PM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I suspect that most such memoirs are bought and consumed out of a prurient fascination with the subject matter.

And therefore... what?

You seem to be advancing an unspoken argument, and I can't help but infer that it's "this kind of thing should be kept behind closed doors." Please elaborate, because I would very much like to be wrong about this.
posted by Zozo at 2:27 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


“Tiger, Tiger” offers us yet another opportunity to open our eyes and redeem ourselves.

I might wait until redemption comes out in paperback.
posted by mecran01 at 2:27 PM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


*May offend, but not intended to*

Oh my, yet another contribution to the abuse-lit pile. I thought that fad peaked last year.

Nice that this victim pulled her strength together enough to 'inform the public' and make some money at the same time. The real question is why these books - which are becoming increasingly graphic - are flying off the shelves. Is the motivation for reading them properly moral and righteous - moral education, understanding the suffering of others, etc? Or do people actually enjoy reading about these experiences in a more prurient way - a safe way to access something deeply taboo while retaining plausible moral deniability?
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 2:51 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is the motivation for reading them properly moral and righteous - moral education, understanding the suffering of others, etc? Or do people actually enjoy reading about these experiences in a more prurient way - a safe way to access something deeply taboo while retaining plausible moral deniability?

Personally, I'm hoping it's motivated by a rejection of the idea that reading is either "properly moral and righteous" or "prurient".
posted by vorfeed at 2:59 PM on March 7, 2011 [12 favorites]


Or do people actually enjoy reading about these experiences in a more prurient way - a safe way to access something deeply taboo while retaining plausible moral deniability?

Or, you know, abused people who see their own experiences reflected in the books.
posted by liketitanic at 3:02 PM on March 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


And therefore... what?

You seem to be advancing an unspoken argument, and I can't help but infer that it's "this kind of thing should be kept behind closed doors." Please elaborate, because I would very much like to be wrong about this.


"The moral sense in mortals is the duty / We have to pay on immortal sense of beauty" ...I should google that to see if I've got it correct, it doesn't quite scan, so I've probably fucked it up.

I can't speak for Lodurr, but this post made me queasy, and when I thought about why I think it's the difference between watching Speed and pulling over at the side of the road to gape at a car wreck. In some way it feels wrong to read it because one will be called upon, will be taxed with its horror, and one cannot save the sin, cannot prevent the wreck, can change nothing, only gape. So what am I reading for? Fascination, mostly if not merely.

Lolita has a similar effect in some ways --- but it is an effect Nabokov is toying with, playing, calling out, in a fiction. When we gambol about with Humbert we are not mentally reliving real harm done to a real person.

In fact the central crime in Lolita, (the real crime as in all of Nabokov, arguably) is denying another's personhood, seeing them only as a useful tool to evoke sensation in oneself.

And so which is this book? Which way will it be read? And if it is read the wrong way, do we not re-enact that crime of solipism, to a degree? Most readers of Lolita itself often read it wrong, I'd argue, miss the fact that Nabokov is making the monster sympathetic not to make us forget he is a monster but to show us how easy it is to do, how prone we are to it, to let aethetic satisfactions mask moral abominations. That's one thing he got right.
posted by Diablevert at 3:07 PM on March 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


[Communities that] protect the abusers because the community is not willing to deal with the social cost and fallout of having to hold them accountable.

Very much this, but also the fact that victims suffer additional pain, because the community isn't willing to hold offenders accountable, and therefore they find it easier to cast out the victim from the community because they are an ugly reminder of the offender's crimes.
posted by empatterson at 3:09 PM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I suspect that most such memoirs are bought and consumed out of a prurient fascination with the subject matter.

Or because they wish to understand better something they have not personally experienced, which is the same reason most books are read. Perhaps someone they know was abused, but can't talk about it and they want to understand better what it was like; perhaps they just feel that they need to witness, to see and feel and understand the survivor as an action of support to that survivor, for the same reason that we also read about genocide and war crimes.
posted by jb at 3:12 PM on March 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Philosopher's Beard: " Nice that this victim pulled her strength together enough to 'inform the public' and make some money at the same time. The real question is why these books - which are becoming increasingly graphic - are flying off the shelves. Is the motivation for reading them properly moral and righteous - moral education, understanding the suffering of others, etc? Or do people actually enjoy reading about these experiences in a more prurient way - a safe way to access something deeply taboo while retaining plausible moral deniability?"

Abuse is a condition that feeds upon silence, shame and secrets. As the excerpt says: hidden codes. Partly because abusive relationships often incorporate some sort of power imbalance between the abuser and their victim. Speaking out like this can help other victims, who may no longer feel alone. They may feel unique in their suffering and unable to speak about what has been done to them with others, but since someone else has spoken out, they might be able to without being judged.

Studies have shown that abuse and rape victims often conclude that what has been done to them is their fault. Suicide rates are three times higher in adult rape victims than in the general population, for instance. So yes, speaking out really is important. So is showing parents by example what to look out for.
posted by zarq at 3:20 PM on March 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


Studies have shown that abuse and rape victims often conclude that what has been done to them is their fault. Suicide rates are three times higher in adult rape victims than in the general population, for instance. So yes, speaking out really is important. So is showing parents by example what to look out for.

So then every work of abuse lit is Uncle Tom's Cabin, a sermon in palatable form?

Perhaps I'm a jerk, but that's not what I read stuff for. Not long form narrative works, anyway. I am afraid it will seem unfathomably shallow to say so, but I can't but feel that using literature to disguise admodishment is wrong, somehow, a dimishishment of the depth of compassion that the best literature can evoke....becuase the best literature is willing to risk being wrong, evoking feelings that we consider immoral, in order to be faithful to the emotional truth of the world of that book. A great book replicates the ambiguity that is characteristic of life, because a great book is successful at showing us the divergent perspectives of more than one character. This may even be a great book, this Tiger Tiger, because the reviews suggest one of the things she attempts to do is express the loyalty a victim might feel to her abuser. But does it not then, inevitably fail as a "message"?
posted by Diablevert at 3:33 PM on March 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


I wouldn't worry overly much about why such books may (or may not) be sellling so well. After all, a quick look at the best seller lists in most papers indicate the crap that does well. Why do so many romances (women's porn) sell well and why does porn do so well on the net? I guess there are some people who prefer chick lit, dominatrix babes in nazi regalia to Proust and Milton.
In passing: we no longer use the "tress" or "trix" for girlie things, as in actress or aviatrix but reserve it still for a dominatrix
posted by Postroad at 3:35 PM on March 7, 2011


You seem to be advancing an unspoken argument, and I can't help but infer that it's "this kind of thing should be kept behind closed doors."

To seem is to be?

If I have an argument -- and in that post, I did not -- it would be that the reason 'abuse lit' is commercially successful is most likely prurient.

I realize I'm opening myself up for attack by putting that out there, but I have to say I find the knee-jerk impulse to attack anyone who finds fault in making an industry out of abuse narratives to be a bit suspicious.

As for whether or not it's to be kept behind closed doors: No, I'm not. That's why I said I was conflicted; that's why I took pains to establish that validating someone's experience of their own abuse is a good thing.

What I don't see as a good thing is the public dwelling on abuse narratives. It essentially glamorizes abuse.
posted by lodurr at 3:44 PM on March 7, 2011


Diablevert: "So then every work of abuse lit is Uncle Tom's Cabin, a sermon in palatable form?

Perhaps I'm a jerk, but that's not what I read stuff for.
"

Every work of abuse lit which is told by a victim is probably some sort of catharsis for them.

To look at the motivations and intentions behind the creation of each, you'd have to ask their authors. One thing that I've always thought common to memoirs is an urge by their author to impart some sort of knowledge/wisdom about life.

However, speaking as someone who endured abuse as a child, I sometimes find books like Tiger, Tiger comforting. More often, I find them intensely disturbing. I'm not trying to speak for everyone, of course. Just me. But I didn't take her message as a failure. I took it as an explanation of how a child can become so wrapped up in caring about and loving their abuser that they do not see how they are being coerced, manipulated and damaged. You'll notice that the relationship between them continued even beyond her self-described "nymphet" years. There was complicity on her part to continue the relationship. From what I can see, the book explains why. That might not be immediately apparent to an outsider.
posted by zarq at 3:50 PM on March 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


Looks like we agree after all, lodurr. Works like this can reach people in positive and negative ways, and spawn consequences both good and bad. But I'd hate to see someone use the dark side of an audience's reaction to argue against the value of the work itself—something I'm acutely sensitive to, hence my asking.
posted by Zozo at 3:54 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Lolita has a similar effect in some ways --- but it is an effect Nabokov is toying with, playing, calling out, in a fiction. When we gambol about with Humbert we are not mentally reliving real harm done to a real person.

I suppose that depends on who we are. When I was hanging around with lit people, my first time at college, the dominant male interpretation of Lolita was basically that Humbert & 'Lolita' had something really special that the world just didn't understand. So is it that Nabokov isn't doing his job, or that the audience is getting it wrong -- or that college-age boys and tenured male lit professors at state schools are using literature as an acceptable way to fuel their fantasy lives?

It's just basically true that it's very very difficult to write well about something without glamorizing it to some extent. On a similar note, Truffaut's supposed to have remarked that it's impossible to make an anti-war film because the act of making a film about something inherently glamorizes it. (It holds for other evils, as well: Most of the people I knew who really really liked Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer seemed to be into it for really creepy reasons.) In a similar way, it's difficult to get inside the mind of an abuser or give a really clear picture of what it's like to be abused without in some sense glamorizing it.

Here's where I land on the inevitable conflict that springs up whenever anyone dares to suggest that people might have unwholesome motives for reading abuse literature: If it's right for literature to make us uncomfortable, then it's got to be right for us to talk about that discomfort, and why we're experiencing it.
posted by lodurr at 3:55 PM on March 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


The reality is that a lot of pedophiles (and abusers of all types) are central members to their communities

I think it's worth reflecting that not all pedophiles are abusers. I don't think people choose to be pedophiles, and there are those who are successful at living with the sexual orientation they were born with without abusing others, probably by dint of enormous effort. (Lewis Carroll may well be one of these individuals.)
posted by layceepee at 3:57 PM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


we no longer use the "tress" or "trix" for girlie things, as in actress or aviatrix but reserve it still for a dominatrix

I looked up 'executrix'. It has nothing to do with high-heels and leather. -- Les Nesman
posted by Space Coyote at 4:02 PM on March 7, 2011


I took it as an explanation of how a child can become so wrapped up in caring about and loving their abuser that they do not see how they are being coerced, manipulated and damaged. You'll notice that the relationship between them continued even beyond her self-described "nymphet" years. There was complicity on her part to continue the relationship. From what I can see, the book explains why. That might not be immediately apparent to an outsider.


Well, here's the thing to me, and this brings me back to the queasy feeling again: What is the net effect of the book if most people miss the point? It's one thing for people to read Lolita and put it down at the end just feeling bad for Humbert because they don't comprehend part of what Nabokov was trying to do. (Well, at least what I'd argue Nabokov was trying to do.)

But what if they miss the point with this? What if they take in all that stuff about caring for the abuser and come away merely with "pedophilia, it's not so bad." What if they read it and just gawp at it? Lolita fails as porn because it's too wordy, to be glib. But something like A Boy Called It...are most of the people who read that reading with compassion and comprehesion? Or mere titillation? (A friend of mine's a middle school librarian; she says she can't keep that tome on the shelves.) If I read a book like this merely because it gives me a secret thrill to imagine something so horrible, am I not in some way exploiting someone's pain for my pleasure?

I dunno, I feel a bit conflicted over all this, as my back-and-forthsy remarks demostrate. I suppose to some degree it depends on your view of human nature, whether one conceives of all those eight graders in the checkout line as the kind bleeding hearts who'll grow up to read Samantha Power or former Stephen King readers who have discarded him for the heightened thrill of the book version of reality TV....
posted by Diablevert at 4:04 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


First, a point of order: Those of us who have lived through childhood sexual abuse and are still here to tell the story are not victims. We are survivors. It sounds like a silly little word choice argument, but living through sexual abuse and its aftermath is survival. A victim is someone you pity. A survivor is someone you respect.

We who are still here to tell the story have earned your respect.

Second, this: The advice not to publish an abuse memoir in that Tenured Radical article is followed by another sentence, one that is pretty important. "At least, not unless you have a story to tell that pushes us beyond the horror of it all."

And you know, I don't particularly want to hear this advice, because I'm working on my own abuse memoir. But the Tenured Radical is right that focusing on the horrors doesn't really help. People can imagine that abuse is perverse and bizarre. That's not something they need explained to them.

Yes, it's important to alert people to the existence of sexual abuse. But if you were to walk up to a hundred people on the street and ask them if child sex abuse is bad, they'd all say yes. They'd all say it's terrible. They'd all say that any person who does it should be locked away for eternity. Even the man who abused me said such things.

If you walk up to a hundred people on the street and ask them if they know a pedophile, if they are acquainted with someone who has tortured children, my guess is that most of them would say no. Which doesn't work, considering how utterly common it is. If one in four women and one in eight men have been sexually abused, we all know abusers.

We just don't know that we do. Not until it's too late.

When you're trying to piece together the horror film of your life, there are lots of moments that pop up in which someone could have helped. There's the unsympathetic teacher, the oblivious neighbor, the unavailable mother. There are always a hundred people who could have stepped in, and at least 99 people who didn't.

I think part of the hope in writing an abuse memoir is that you will finally be the person to break through to those people who were so oblivious when you were a child. It's the hope that you will be the person whose memoir is famous, not just because it's the most sordid tale, but also because you had some unique special insight that no one else has ever had yet. Maybe you'll be the person, you think, who can explain what it's like to be so alone and lost. Maybe you'll be the person, you think, who can finally get people to understand that abuse like that never stops hurting, no matter how long it's been over. Maybe you'll be the person who gets people to stop focusing on internet stings and to think more locally.

Maybe when you have finished writing it, and it has been published for the world to see, you will finally feel validated.

And anyone who writes a memoir detailing the grotesque, painful details of her childhood abuse is probably that person, that person with the insight, to at least one or two readers. I myself cannot read this memoir (hello, triggers!) and would prefer to steer clear of abuse memoirs entirely until I've finished writing my own. But what I'm saying is that there is always a point to these stories, not just for the reader but for the writer. Yes, these sorts of books are generally intended to raise awareness in the community. They also help the survivor to organize a coherent narrative about the abuse, something that can be very empowering, partially because abuse is about presenting fiction as reality and reality as fiction. (No one will believe you. If anyone found out, you would go to jail. This is a perfectly normal way for a man to behave with a child.) To say, "This is the true story" is to say, "I know what's real now."

Which brings me back around to the beginning. If you are thinking of writing an abuse memoir, please do. It will put things into perspective for you, make you think, help you heal. We can talk about the publishing part some other time.
posted by brina at 4:08 PM on March 7, 2011 [23 favorites]


But what if they miss the point with this? What if they take in all that stuff about caring for the abuser and come away merely with "pedophilia, it's not so bad." What if they read it and just gawp at it? Lolita fails as porn because it's too wordy, to be glib. But something like A Boy Called It...are most of the people who read that reading with compassion and comprehesion? Or mere titillation? (A friend of mine's a middle school librarian; she says she can't keep that tome on the shelves.) If I read a book like this merely because it gives me a secret thrill to imagine something so horrible, am I not in some way exploiting someone's pain for my pleasure?

That's a lot of ifs.
posted by 23skidoo at 4:10 PM on March 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


So is showing parents by example what to look out for.

Not to debate the merits or otherwise of publishing the book (like diablevert, I'm quite conflicted about it and certainly have no intention of reading it), using as "an example of what to look out for" as a justification is a really bad one. There are much better ways of communicating that information that are regularly used in training for teachers, social workers, childcare workers, museum attendants, librarians and a host of other professions that deal with children on a regular basis.

The information communicated to people in those jobs is factual, non-anecdotal, and backed up by research and government bodies dedicated to putting a stop to this. Not only does it include what to look out for, but also how to act, and why.

Certainly, it may not have the same emotional gut punch, but in my opinion (in Australia at least), the last thing we need is more hysteria about paedophilia that continues to miss the real perpetrators and victims in favour of narrative-based approaches that continually focus on the wrong areas. And I have no doubt whatsoever that - here, at least - people buy books like this for exactly the same reason they bought Flowers in The Attic all those years ago. Now, you can debate the merits/morals of buying books for those reasons, but as public education, they fail miserably.
posted by smoke at 5:04 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


But something like A Boy Called It...are most of the people who read that reading with compassion and comprehesion? Or mere titillation?

I guess I have three comments here.

First, I am always glad to see a victim of sexual abuse speak up. Silence is often murderous for victims. We lost a wonderful MeFite to it not so long ago. So I don't really care what motivates readers. I'm glad to hear the voice of the person who experienced the abuse.

Second, I read A Boy Called It pretty much in a sitting but it is hard to imagine what would titillate a reader about starving a child, which is mostly what that book was about. What is gripping about the book is that he survived, against daunting odds. I do think of the book often when I run into the rare, but always very disturbing cases, of caregivers and parents who starve their children.

Third, I agree that one of the most disturbing things about child abusers is that they are, in fact, recognizable. Most people who do terrible things are. None of us is ever as far removed from the destroyers among us as we'd like to think, and very few destroyers understand what damage they are doing. (I, too, think one of the many wonderful things about Lolita is how well Nabokov captures that obliviousness.)
posted by bearwife at 5:05 PM on March 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


I wonder how valid Fragoso's observations/investigations/speculations of Curran's mind and perspective are. Are victims best placed to understand their oppressors/aggressors? Maybe they are? I think this book can only be an exploration of Fragoso's mind as a victim, and how she perceived and perhaps sympathised with Curran. That's still valuable - it's just different from what we're being sold, I think. - doublehappy

I haven't read the links yet either, but this puts me in mind of something from the Old English class that I took back in university. In Old English, the preposition used when two people fought was that they fought "with" each other, rather than "against" each other. (It would be grammatically incorrect to say "fight against" in Old English.) You still see that a bit in modern English, but the claim in my textbooks was that "against" is much more common nowadays, and that this reflects a cultural difference in how we view the relationship between two people engaged in a conflict. Fighting was seen as a joint activity, not for mutual benefit, but that required the participation of both parties, and that was an interpersonal interaction - you learned something about the character and strengths and weaknesses of your opponent.

I think that the survivor in an abusive relationship may sometimes have insights into the psyche of the abuser, and may sometimes not. My understanding is that one of the effects of abuse is that the person being abused ends up spending an *awful lot* of their time and mental energy thinking about and focusing on the abuse and their relationship to the abuser (often blaming themselves and worrying about how their actions might be supposedly causing the abuse, sadly). Also, my understanding is that part of the process of the emotional aspect of abuse is that the abuser imposes their own interpretation of reality/events on their targets. So the abuse survivor may be ideally placed to understand the abuser very, very well. But I imagine it would really depend on the specific situation and people involved.
posted by eviemath at 6:10 PM on March 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


So people shouldn't talk about their sexual abuse because the wrong people might get off on it?

Bullshit.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:35 PM on March 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm really weirded out by the all of the comments that seem to be starting from the assumption that this author needs to justify herself for writing her own memoirs.
posted by facetious at 7:25 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I survived domestic abuse. I knew people who were sexually abused. My take is that the victim may or may not understand why they were abused. It's not the victim's job OR the survivor's job to bother with that. The first order of business is getting out, the next order of business is staying safe.
Them getting help and perhaps helping others who faced the same stuff.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 7:28 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


A slight derail, but ... from the Globe and Mail link: "She ... avoids the eye of her computer"

Really? Really?? Most purple prose I've come across in a while. She's not looking into the "eye of the computer" (we call them webcams out here in teh crazy intarnets) and seems to be avoiding eye contact because she's looking at YOU on her computer monitor. Or maybe the writer is saying that the author is staring at the webcam, away from the writer's face. Ugh, purple anyway. Okay, I'll shut up now.
posted by Xere at 10:52 PM on March 7, 2011


23skidoo: That's a lot of ifs.

And yet, I've personally seen all those 'ifs' satisfied on a routine basis.
posted by lodurr at 7:32 AM on March 8, 2011


From what my wife* tells me, current thinking in therapy for abuse victims is based on viewing the abuse as a form of complex trauma. For most victims of trauma, simply dwelling on the traumatic events is not helpful for recovery -- all that does is re-traumatize the person and help them to continue to dwell in the traumatic place.

What does seem to work is helping people reframe the traumatizing events. Writing the narrative (which you get to create) can help. Doing anything to claim the narrative can help. What's key is that in order to get past the trauma, you have to take the view that it's possible to get past the trauma. "Survivor" language (which doesn't work for everyone) is one example of a way people try to do that. Art projects are another. Helping other people can do that, too, but it can also cause you to dwell on it.

From what I'm reading here, Fragoso could be going either way, it's hard to tell. Only she knows. Writers are not one kind of animal. For some, the process of continual improvement that goes along with producing a saleable manuscript, not to mention the endless rounds of readings that are part and parcel of being a part of the academic-literary complex, would serve the end of desensitizing and gaining control over the trauma -- applying your professional tools, as a writer, to bring the narrative under your own control.

For others, it would amount to damning oneself to hell.

Only Fragoso (& hopefully her therapist or counsellor) know for sure which is the case for her.

As far as reading the narratives: Reading this kind of narrative could absolutely be traumatic for some poeple, and in particular could be re-traumatizing for abuse survivors. Does that mean we should suppress it? Of course not. I'd have to re-read every comment to be sure, but I don't think anyone is suggesting that this kind of narrative be suppressed. Some of us are questioning its value and are questioning the uses to which the narratives are usually put by their readers, but that's not at all the same thing.

--
*Who has a trauma-therapy certificate.
posted by lodurr at 7:44 AM on March 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


The first order of business is getting out, the next order of business is staying safe.

That's 101 in social work schools, except that they would probably reverse it. "Getting out" will usually end up being implicit in "staying safe", but "getting out safely" is very important.
posted by lodurr at 7:47 AM on March 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


"A slight derail, but ... from the Globe and Mail link: "She ... avoids the eye of her computer" Really? Really?? Most purple prose I've come across in a while. She's not looking into the "eye of the computer" (we call them webcams out here in teh crazy intarnets) and seems to be avoiding eye contact because she's looking at YOU on her computer monitor. Or maybe the writer is saying that the author is staring at the webcam, away from the writer's face. Ugh, purple anyway. Okay, I'll shut up now. posted by Xere "


From what I understand after reading her comments on some critiques, she uses this language to put the reader in the mind of how a child would interpret the events. If you were a poor 7 year old who had probably not had much contact with technology like that, it'd seem a lot like an eye to you. Because that circle watched you, and allows lots of other people to watch you, too.
posted by shesaysgo at 9:00 AM on March 8, 2011


Jesus, I hope this doesn't turn out to be a hoax.

I have no reason to think it will, but if something this emotionally wrenching turns out to be another Kaycee Nicole previously or AIDS patient Tony previously kind of thing...

Just an unwelcome thought that crossed my mind as I read the article.
posted by Rykey at 5:38 PM on March 8, 2011


On second thought, I do hope this is a hoax. *shudder*
posted by Rykey at 7:01 PM on March 8, 2011


Rykey, from what I gather, it's not actually that unusual a story. Not at all implausible. While I'm still uncofortable about the uses to which this kind of narrative can be put, I have little doubt that it's a pretty accurate representation of what this kind of abuse would be like, especially the mind-fucking part of it.
posted by lodurr at 7:11 AM on March 9, 2011


"What?! Where do people get these ideas? Nabokov began learning English as a small child in Russia; in fact, he claimed (somewhat implausibly) that he learned to write English before Russian."

He was once asked in an interview which was his favorite language. N responded, "My brain says English, my ears say French, but my heart says Russian."
posted by puny human at 6:41 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


that's a really neat formulation. a one-line essay in how to pack a lot of meaning into a few phrases.
posted by lodurr at 6:02 AM on March 28, 2011


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