Just over halfway through this grim and gripping book, the author describes herself and her girlfriend ‘lying on my bed kissing’. She says: ‘I love kissing her.’ And: ‘We kissed and kissed, and soon my hands were at her shirt and I was tugging it off.’ And: ‘I kissed her again.’ And: ‘I reached down between her legs.’ And: ‘She reached down to touch me and then we were moving together and it felt good and I moaned and it felt good again.’
Then she says: ‘And then it didn’t.’
The sex feels good. Then it doesn’t. Something has happened to the author, deep in her past, and it comes back to haunt her. ‘I realised I was going under, into the memory,’ she tells us. ‘My breath quickened. I gulped air. I fumbled for something to hold on to.’
In this passage, she’s telling us how sexual trauma actually feels. And let me say: I haven’t read anything quite like this before. Anybody who reads this, who didn’t know how sexual trauma feels — how it plays out across the years, how it can rear up and grab a person decades after the event, or events — will have a much better idea now.
Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich has thought very hard about sexual trauma. She really, really wants to tell us about it. Very few people do.
But let’s back up a bit. This book is partly about the sexual trauma that happened to Marzano-Lesnevich when she was a child. But it’s also about a case that she worked on when she was training to be a lawyer. The case concerns a man called Ricky Langley and a boy called Jeremy Guillory. Ricky killed Jeremy. The case is horrible; it will appal you. Marzano-Lesnevich tells us about it in great detail.
It happened in Louisiana in 1992, in a house on the edge of some woods. Jeremy, who is six, calls on his friend Joey. But Joey isn’t there. Ricky, the lodger, is. He has been in trouble before —for molesting children. ‘He has a small head and large jug ears. At 26 and only 140lbs, Ricky Joseph Langley is slight for a grown man — but still much bigger than the boy.’ Then this appalling man does an appalling thing, yet again.
When asked, by the police, why he killed the boy, Langley says: ‘I couldn’t tell you. I’m still fumblin’ with it in my mind. It’s like I know I did it, but yet it’s like something you read in the newspaper.’
So Ricky Langley is driven to do terrible things, and he doesn’t know why. Something drives him — but what? The author digs into his past. It’s sad, grim and poor. His parents had a car accident when he was in the womb. His mother drank. He was haunted by fantasies of his dead brother.
As she’s telling us about this, the author digs into her own past. She grew up in New Jersey. Her father was a lawyer. She was one of triplets, but her sister died as a baby. She was molested by her grandfather — her mother’s father. As she writes about this, she gives us an insight into the way memory works. One day, her parents learn the facts — that the old man has been abusing two of their daughters. Then she tells us this stark thing: ‘My parents never tell my grandfather what they have learned. They never tell my grandmother, either. They give, somehow, no sign that anything is wrong.’
So this is not just a book about terrible things happening. It’s a book about how, when certain types of terrible things happen, people don’t talk about them. The author’s parents wanted to know how long the abuse had been going on. She writes: ‘Five years is the answer. I begin to cry. Not because of what happened. But because now my mother knows.’ These are perhaps the most powerful lines in the book.
So: two terrible men doing appalling things. But driven by what? Ricky Langley says he doesn’t know. He goes to jail. There’s a scene in which the author confronts her grandfather. He admits his guilt. ‘Do you want me to kill myself?’ he asks. Then he says: ‘Besides, what happened to you is not such a big thing. When I was a child, it happened to me.’
A grim story about two depraved men, and the untold damage they have caused. Like I said, a gripping read, if not a pleasant one. But we must congratulate Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich. She has made us understand things we might not have understood before. Thanks for that.