November 10, 2006

Feeling Lucky

There are two kinds of readers in the world: the reader who likes to feel and the reader who likes to think. I'm part of the former category: I really like to feel. In fact, I love to feel. Ever since I was a little girl I have often been swept up in various emotion, from getting so mad at my brother that I sat on him (he stole my Velveteen Rabbit book) to feeling so happy that I could weep from the joy. Yep, I'm an emotional girl.

And so, I'm naturally drawn to emotionally-powerful books. None of the sappy stuff, mind you. No Nicholas Sparks or Jack Weyland for me! I love books that make me sad like The Age of Innocence and books that make me mad. And of course, I love books that make me happy, like The Princess Bride.

Emotional resonance is not reserved to works of fiction. Both Nickel and Dimed as well as A Problem from Hell (a Pulitzer-prize winning book on genocide) made me angry and sad by the selfishness and hatred in the world. Last night I read another such book. It didn't anger me as much as it saddened me. It made me realize how ugly the world can be, but it also revealed to me the strength and resilience of the human spirit.

Lucky is a memoir by Alice Sebold who was raped during her freshman year at Syracuse University. She was assaulted and raped at a park near campus. It was a random act of violence. She was nineteen years old. After the rape, Sebold went directly to the police who informed her that another girl was raped and murdered in the same park a few months before. They said she was lucky.




The memoir begins with Sebold's rape and chronicles her recovery---both physical and mental. She details the reaction of her family and how they struggle to find healing too. And it follows Sebold when her rapist is caught, tried, and imprisoned for eight years.

I enjoyed reading this book on many levels. As I mentioned before, Lucky is extremely powerful emotionally and especially to female readers. (Which probably comprises most of Sebold's readership.) Most women don't know what it's like to have been raped, but they do know what it's like to feel vulnerable. I know I always feel a twinge of nervousness when I walk to my car in a parking garage after dark. And it is this vulnerability that really pulled me into Lucky.

I also enjoyed Lucky because Sebold is a very honest writer. Her style is detailed but not flowery, realistic not stark, heartfelt not sentimental. I love how she followed one of the most fundamental rules of writing: show, don't tell. I think this was most apparent when she talked about her family. Instead of telling readers that her mother was an alcoholic and that her father escaped the alcoholism through his research as a professor, Sebold showed us. I formed a complete characterization of Sebold's family through the stories she relates.

Sebold will remain one of my favorite writers. Her novel The Lovely Bones is a fine work of literature, too. But would I recommend Lucky to anybody? Well, it's a memoir that isn't for the faint of heart. It focuses on rape, which is a topic that most people feel uncomfortable with. The first chapter of the book, which recounts in detail Sebold's assault and rape, is probably the most bone-jarring piece of literature that I have ever read. Yet I think it's important that we read books that tackle difficult issues because they challenge us and they teach us greater empathy. I have never been raped and I hope with all hopes that I'll never have to experience such an act of violence. But the sad truth of our world is that there are many women who, like Sebold, are survivors of rape. If reading this memoir helps me to empathize more with these women, then it was more than worth it.

4 comments:

  1. Wow sounds interesting. I also enjoy literature that makes me feel, but I must admit I like lit that makes me think as well. I read Lovely Bones a few years ago. I remember hurting but also rejoicing.

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  2. Hey Heid,

    Any suggestions for books that have made you both think and feel? Most books that have made me both think and feel have been non-fiction works. But I definitely think fiction books can accomplish this too. Recommendations are more than welcome! I'm on another reading stampede.

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  3. Hm well I think you might like My Sister's Keeper. That one for sure made me feel sooo many emotions, but also made me think where I stand in terms of many things. It's fiction. By Jodi Picoult. I will let you know if I think of others. You let me know too!!

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  4. Oh, I've heard of that book, I think! It deals with a family who has another daughter to provide organs for their sick daughter. Something like that? I should read it considering genetic engineering has developed so quickly in recent years.

    I would recommend the book "A Problem From Hell: America in the Age of Genocide." It's a non-fiction work about the U.S. (as well as the rest of the world) turning a blind eye to genocide. I think it was especially poignant to me considering the genocide in Darfur. I'll let you know if I think of anything else!

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