Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was A Girl by Jeannie Vanasco
Published by Tin House Books on October 1st, 2019
Genres: Feminism, Memoir, Non-Fiction
“Reminiscing about our friendship suddenly seems like the sun casting a fake specialness on a pile of trash. But I want to find the nice memories that were thrown away.”
This book wasn’t on my radar and I don’t even remember how I found it. But as soon as I read the description, I knew I had to get it from the library.
Jeannie Vanasco has had the same nightmare since she was a teenager. She wakes up saying his name. It’s always been about him. A boy named Mark. One of her closest high school friends. A boy who raped her.
When her nightmares worse, Jeannie decides—after fourteen years of silence— to reach out to Mark. He agrees to talk on the record and meet in person.
In the book, Jeannie details her friendship with Mark before and after the assault, asking the question that deepens the #MeToo discussion: Is it possible for a good person to commit a terrible act?
Jeannie interviews Mark, exploring how rape has impacted his life as well as her own. She examines the language surrounding sexual assault and pushes against its confines. She dismantles long-held myths of victimhood, discovering grace and power into the trauma of sexual violence.
Wow. Wow. Wow. This book is nothing like I’ve read before. And as you can see from the premise, it’s a pretty unique situation.
It’s a discussion that we don’t seem to have whenever we talk about the #MeToo movement.
After all, why should Vanasco give this asshole a platform? What could he possibly say that would make her feel better after what he did?
But at the same time, aren’t we all curious? What is the answer to the question? Can he still be a good person after doing such a horrific act?
Throughout the book, Vanasco knows that some feminists won’t appreciate what she’s doing. But Vanasco knows what she’s doing — she’s showing how feminism is failing those who seek to help and protect survivors.
And you can see in the writing that there are still some deep-seated biases that Vanasco still holds as a survivor. She constantly is explaining and justifying her actions. Repeating that she’s gone through every scenario in her head already: Maybe if I didn’t drink, maybe I did lead him on, maybe I shouldn’t have forgiven him.
This memoir is powerful based on the arresting premise itself, but it’s really Vanasco’s constant battle in the book to control the narrative that’s the most fascinating.
She (along with her friends and colleagues) want to make sure that Mark gives her answers, but doesn’t manipulate her or try to rewrite the story of what happened.
Surprisingly, this book really isn’t about Mark. It’s truly about Vanasco, her struggle to come to terms with what happened that night, and her feelings about reconnecting with him.
I could delete this rationale, or revise my stated motivations. But I would only be doing that in an effort to please or impress others. And I want to be honest here. Otherwise, why do this? This is a memoir, not a manifesto.
And it’s never flat out said by Vanasco, but it’s this common thread that connects all the chapters together: rapists are not strangers or monsters in dark alleys.
They have lives and relationships outside of this act. They’re friends, partners, sons, brothers, etc.
Vanasco never makes the reader try to humanize with Mark. It’s not about trying to sympathize with him. It’s about trying to sympathize with the survivors. It’s not easy to report sexual assault especially when it’s done by someone who they know. Because it’s not easy to believe that someone everyone knows in town could be that.
My memory is so selective. I only hang on to the stuff I really regret.
This style of writing might not be for everyone. Vanasco writes in very short and fragmented chapters. But it really resonated with me — I felt like I was right there in the author’s mind. She has these thoughts circling in her head and it felt very much like how I work through things. Anyone with anxiety or depression will relate to this — she spends so much time in her head questioning every single move she does.
This is a tough and intense read, but it’s definitely worth the time.