Post #30 – Women’s Memoirs, Book Raves – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett
Reviewed by Karen Walker
Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You by Sue William Silverman is a winner of the Associated Writing Programs Award for Creative Nonfiction and I can see why. Even if it weren’t a true story, it sizzles and sparkles like a good novel. How I wish it were a novel and that the author didn’t really experience what she writes about. This first of two memoirs by Silverman tells the story of an incestuous relationship with her father, which began somewhere around four years of age.
Silverman’s directness and honesty immediately hooked me when, in her preface, she details her father’s accomplishments. He was Chief Counsel to the Secretary of the Interior; helped the Philippines gain independence, assisted in the creation of the Puerto Rican Commonwealth, worked to implement home rule for the Virgin Islands, Guam and Samoa, and more. She then says, “My father was also a child molester. I know. Because he sexually molested me.” How can you not want to turn the page? Don’t we all have images of supposedly picture-perfect families? Silverman blasts that myth to pieces.
I found myself reading this memoir on three levels: as an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse myself, as a memoir writer, and as one who loves reading books.
Silverman’s gut-wrenching scenes with her father give us the specifics of what happened. But it is when she shares her internal process that I connect most strongly: “I no longer hear sound. This pressure. This sweat. I am no longer in this car. I think I will stop breathing.” Later on, we come to understand that Silverman disassociated during sex with her father. This is a common phenomenon in childhood sexual abuse victims, and one I experienced myself.
As a survivor, this was a difficult, painful read. At times I needed to stop and remind myself to breathe. Other times, I wanted to put the book down and not pick it up again. As a memoir writer, I was riveted to the book, unable to put it down because of the superb craftsmanship, the beauty, lyricism and poetry of language. As a lover of books, I couldn’t wait to find out what was going to happen to this little girl.
In terms of structure, the memoir opens with Silverman seeking the help of a therapist. She then writes her childhood in extended flashbacks. I was grateful the book began with Silverman as an adult somewhere she could finally begin to heal, because the relentless onslaught of her father and the unspeakable things he did to her as a child, were, frankly, unbearable at times. I understand the choice the writer made to structure the memoir this way, but it was difficult to wait until the very end of the book to know that healing occurred. Others who have not experienced childhood sexual abuse might react quite differently.
The fugue-like state Silverman describes–her unhealthy relationship with food and the lack of understanding as to what constitutes normalcy—are themes that run through the memoir. Anyone who has experienced anything close to what Silverman has will both empathize with and relate to her. Those who have not experienced childhood abuse will find the memoir heart-wrenching, but you will share in the testament to the human spirit that Silverman survived her childhood and went on to thrive as an adult.
With this memoir, Silverman breaks through the taboo our society has about speaking the unspeakable. Incest is real. Child molesters, sexual predators, pedophiles do exist and savagely destroy childhood innocence, leaving legacies that linger long after childhood has passed.
Yes, it’s a tough read. But it’s one that’s well worth the emotional reactions one might have. For memoir writers, it is creative nonfiction at its best. Read it and learn the craft from a master. For those who love to read, you’re in for an emotional roller-coaster of a story. But it’s a story told well. And it’s a story we need to hear.