Sunday, July 13, 2014

‘The Year After’ (Book Review)

Remind yourself right now: Never judge a book by its cover. In the case of The Year After: A Memoir (2013), its looks – like its title – appear rather bland. But inside is a gripping story that might even bring tears to your eyes. You see, the author Ashley Warner was raped. Her book is an almost day-by-day account of what happened starting from the moment a stranger forced himself into her apartment to the first-year anniversary of her survival. It’s a rare look into a victim’s mind during the assault and how she slowly manages to put her shambled life back to together.

When I began reading, one of the first things I noticed was how much Warner did “right.” Her immediately reported the incident, submitted to a medical examination, and sought the comfort of family and friends. In addition, the legal proceedings went rather favorably for her. This is not to say that everything was hunky-dory. Warner was constantly in doubt about her self-worth and her actions. Did she deserve to be raped? Was she wrong in submitting and not physically defending herself? Would she ever be able to have a normal relationship again? She also suffered financially, tolerated sexual harassment from unsympathetic coworkers, and alienated friends and family who didn’t know how to relate to her problem. But she somehow she managed, seeking solace in a support group and empowerment in a self-defense class. And by taking her time, Warner heals. She masters up the courage to try new things, pursue a new career, and eventually take ownership over her sexuality.

I’d recommend The Year After for books clubs and support groups because there’s so many discussion possibilities. Family and friends are both help and hindrance. Rape victims, as shown by the members of Warner’s support group, vary in how they cope, especially when it comes to their sexual relationships.

Readers may also take notice of Warner’s deep-seated “white guilt” issues. She gets defensive when questioned about the racial identity of her attacker. While she’d like to pretend that things like that aren’t important, they clearly are necessary for apprehending criminals. Race comes up again when she’s applying for public assistance. She’s almost apologetic when a government employee makes an insensitive remark to her. It’s sad that, as victim of both a rape and of an inefficient bureaucratic system, she – perhaps subconsciously – takes on the identity of the perpetrator.

The Year After had some loose ends that were left untied, and a lot of content repetition (which is fine for everyday life, but gets a bit tiresome in a book). In addition, the author veered away from her “year after” theme – meaning the initial year after – when she devoted the last few chapters to the second to the twentieth years after. I’m not sure why she chose to do that when she’s obviously guarded about her current career and personal life. These later chapters are disconnected from the rest of the book. If there’s ever a second edition, I hope the author will consolidate those later years into the Afterward, where vague comments about where she’s been since are easily tolerated.

If you pick up this book, be forewarned. Reading The Year After was like watching people get shot at or beaten up in a documentary film. It affected me in profound ways. I’d put it down for days at a time because it was difficult to face the trauma of both the rape and the aftermath. But I don’t regret one minute I spent reading it.


Disclaimer: I received this book as a First Reads giveaway winner on GoodReads.com. There was no obligation to write a review.

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