Thursday, September 17, 2020

Book Review: Dancing with the Octopus: A Memoir of a Crime by Debora Harding

This is a memoir about Debora's kidnapping and rape. And horrifyingly, that's not the worst thing in this book.

She was living a typical 1970s middle class childhood in the middle of America, but no one knew how her mother abused her and her sisters. They adored her father, and he adored their mother. Sometimes it seemed as if he didn't see what was going on, was essentially willfully blind, and other times it seemed like he knew but he just couldn't bring himself to do anything about it--either out of a feeling of helplessness, or inertia--it's hard to say. But Debora's mother was pretty awful to her on a more or less daily basis. Her sisters were a bit more able (or willing) to avoid her wrath through compliance, toadiness, and lack of rebelling. But Debora wouldn't buckle under, leading to her suffering the worst of their mother's abuse.

One day there was a snowstorm and school let out early. She had church choir practice that evening so she waited around after, going to the mall with a friend. When it was finally time, she headed over to the church in her thin jacket with a broken zipper, and found choir cancelled and the church locked. As she pondered how she'd get home, a boy just a few years older than her grabbed her and forced her into his van. As he drove around for hours, Debora was able to keep her wits about her, engage him in conversation, and she probably saved her life by fully appearing to him as a real person. And she was most likely able to do that, because throughout it all, it wasn't quite as bad at what she'd suffered at her mother's hand for years. She'd become inured to pain, threats, and insults. She knew how best to manipulate the situation so that she's survive.

Years and years later, as an adult, she found out about a program which introduced convicted criminals and their victims, and worked towards honesty, and if, possible, forgiveness. She wanted to participate. Would he? Would this be a good idea? Would she get resolution?

Wow, talk about riveting. This true crime memoir was white-knuckle anxiety-producing from beginning to end. Even though you knew she survived, she was able to produce real feelings of anticipation and worry throughout. And also a hypnotizing curiosity about her mother--how did that situation come to be, especially when her father was so nice, and how did it resolve itself? I couldn't look away.

This book is published by Bloomsbury USA, which is distributed by Macmillan, my employer.

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