Rating: A-/ Over the last few years, but particularly since Trump’s vile ‘grab ’em by the pussy’ comments recently resurfaced in the form of a viral video, sexual assault has been a commonly discussed topic in the American media. Most people would probably agree that it’s a subject that needs to be talked about, and incidents like Brock Turner’s trial have brought to life time and again the rampant issues concerning sexual violence against women and the justice system.
Alice Sebold doesn’t claim to speak for all rape victims or their individual stories, she avoids broad generalizations and aims to tell one specific story, the true account of her own rape as a girl in college. I was enraptured by Sebold’s upsetting but strangely beautiful debut novel, The Lovely Bones, when I was about thirteen or fourteen, which was later made into a very mediocre and disappointing movie by Lord of the Rings filmmaker Peter Jackson. Lucky seemed like it might be an emotionally difficult read, but I decided to take a chance on it anyway. Anyway,I already knew Alice Sebold could write, and it wasn’t like The Lovely Bones was a walk on the park. And sometimes it’s worth being disturbed by something.
Just to tell everyone right off the bat, the prolonged rape scene in this book starts on page one and goes on for what seems like many, many pages. It’s incredibly hard to read and graphic, and it goes into Sebold’s humiliation and assault at the hands of a man she has never met before in excruciating detail. If you don’t think you can deal with this level of sexual violence, or if you are one of those people who gets triggered at these kind of scenes, you should probably opt out right now.
In a way, the rape scene is the exact opposite of the scene depicting a similar act in The Lovely Bones, which is restrained, even subtle. After the brutal opening pages of Lucky, that level of violence isn’t explored in as much detail again, but the book doesn’t exactly stop being stressful either. Sebold shows up at her campus beaten senseless and bloody, but goes about trying to prove to her family that she’s ‘fine.’ Her mom and dad, to put it nicely, are odd ducks, and a whole other book could probably be written about Alice’s cold, standoffish intellectual parents and her depressing family life.
I’ll go out on a limb and say that although the story of how Alice gets raped and then takes her rapist to trial can be a tough read at times, it might be the most educational book you’ll read all year. It will certainly be the most eye-opening. Some people assume that a rape conviction is a pretty simple business; if the rapist is guilty, he will be unceremoniously whisked off to prison and maybe given the whole ‘welcome to prison’ treatment. If the girl is lying, justice will be served and the unfortunate guy will be released.
However, people, particularly men, don’t seem to realize what a complete shitstorm these cases really are, and just how hard it is for the victim. Many wondered why when these cases go public, particularly when a public figure or a celebrity is the alleged assailant, the details only come out later and often the female in the case backs down after a certain level of pressure is applied.”Why is she pressing charges now, after all these years?” They wonder aloud. “Could it be she wants a share of the guy’s fortune? Maybe she slept with him and now wants to create some drama. Maybe she’s just a lying ho.”
Although there have certainly been known to be cases where women lied about being raped, for whatever aberrant reason, Lucky serves as a reminder that these cases need to be taken seriously despite our initial doubts, whether the accused is a basketball player or a famous actor or a Stanford athlete swimming his way to stardom. It also happens to be insightful, articulate, and fabulously written. You’ll feel like you kind of know Alice by the end of the book, although of course if you haven’t personally been through the kind of violence she suffered you can’t claim to understand her feelings and motivations fully.
Of course, Lucky is often sad and painful, as you would probably expect a book with this subject matter to be. I often read books, watch movies, and listen to music with disturbing subject matter, but some people might find this kind of book unbearable to read. That’s okay too. But as Alice Sebold says, these things need to be written about because violence, like anything else, is a part of life. I am not and have never been a victim of rape, and I would be hesitant to recommend this to someone who has.
Depending on their viewpoint, it might be cathartic or agonizing. I recommend that men read this book too, even though the subject of sexual assault can be mistakenly considered to be a ‘woman issue.’ Not only can men and boys be (and let’s be honest, often are) a victim of this epidemic, men need to understand the intricacies of these situations and victims go through not only from the actual assault, but also from the trial and the agony of not being believed or taken seriously.
One of the most interesting points that is brought up in the book is the differing reactions from Alice’s classmates, friends, and family when they find out what happened to her. Some people she went to school with were thrilled to be associated with a rape victim, others are embarrassed and ashamed for her and avoid her like the plague. It really starts making you think about how you would deal with a situation like that and whether you would distance yourself from someone you knew or otherwise hurt them, maybe even unintentionally.
People don’t know how to deal with crisis, when someone dies, people like to send casseroles. But the stigma behind sexual assault makes it hard for outsiders to deal with it normally or truly offer support to the victims. Although not exactly a ‘fun’ read, Lucky proves itself to be a necessary book about a painful subject, and these kinds of books should be read more by a diverse audience, even embraced.
Alice Sebold is a writer I deeply respect, for her strength and brutal honesty as well as her obvious talent at what she does, and I would read anything she publishes. She’s a truly powerhouse writer, and her reputation as a great storyteller is well deserved.