In the tunnel where I was raped, a tunnel that was once an underground entry to an amphitheatre, a place where actors burst forth from underneath the seats of a crowd, a girl had been murdered and dismembered. I was told this story by the police. In comparison, they said, I was lucky.
This preface made up part of the cover of a previous edition of Alice Sebold’s amazing memoir and it is part of a longer preface leading into her recollections. From the very first sentence, there is no pretension or mistake about what the memoir was going to be about. It focuses entirely on Sebold’s rape, her virginity and inexperience with sex (she was a virgin when she was raped) when Sebold was an 18 year old freshman at Syracuse University, the aftermath and its consequences for most of her adult life. Nothing is held back when Sebold details her rape and recounts the moment when she wanted nothing more in the world than to live. After several attempts to escape -
Then I began to run. Like a giant who is all powerful, he reached out and grabbed the end of my long brown hair … that was my first missed escape, the hair, the woman’s long hair
Sebold relents to the demands of the rapist in order to live. This becomes a little problematic during the court proceedings down the track where the adage, ‘it is better to be dead than to be raped’, was still a popular consensus.
Intertwined with Sebold’s story is her childhood and stories about her somewhat dysfunctional family – a mother who was previously an alcoholic and ver nervous, a somewhat reclusive father who was more interested in his books than the family and an older sister whose main motive was to plot her escape away from the family. The two sisters never seem particularly close and, I think, that Sebold writes with guilt that she always managed to spoil her sister’s special moments and never letting her shine. Alice was raped on the day of her sister’s exam and her trial against her rapist was on the day of her sister’s graduation.
Sebold’s story is bravely told and the writing is amazing. There were so many times when I ached for her when Sebold recounts her physical injuries which were quite severe. There were many times where I was moved to tears. Her story also sheds light on how one moment, one horrendus moment, can have such a devastating lifelong impact. While Sebold gains justice in the end and she manages to finish her degree (not to mention taking writing classes from Tess Gallagher and Tobias Wolff), there is no justice for the pain and suffering the rape had caused and perhaps continue to cause.
The ending, as most of us will know, is a quite happy one. Sebold later wrote (the memoir was publised in 1999) The Lovely Bones and The Almost Moon and is married to the writer Glen David Gold.