Monday, April 4, 2016

I WILL FIND YOU :: Joanna Connors

"Why him?"

This is the question Joanna Connors set out to answer when she began to investigate the life of the man who raped her. In 1984, Connors was a 30-year-old reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer when she was attacked while on assignment.

In the decades following, Connors dealt with the fallout virtually alone. She didn't speak of her rape to friends, she did not tell her children, she barely spoke about it to her husband, sisters, and/or mother. She told them, and herself, that she was fine and turned her life "into performance art."

From the outside, my performance worked. I looked and acted like most other mothers. Only I knew that my entire body vibrated with dread, poised to flee when necessary.

Internally, the experience understandably changed and consumed her. It altered not only who she was, but how she walked in the world: how she mothered, partnered, worked, socialized, and, to her shame, interacted with people of different races.

In 2004, with her daughter about to go off to college, Connors felt she had to share what had happened, as a "kind of magical insurance policy, so it would never happen to her."

How do you tell your children a story you never want them to hear? How do you explain how it made you the mother you were? This is why I hovered over you. This is why my internal alarm clanged constantly, why I treated every tumble and scrape as an emergency, and every sleepover party as a potential kidnapping situation. I wanted you to embrace the world and live boldly, but I worry that my actions taught you to fear the world and not trust anyone.

Telling her children, however, was just the beginning. That little tug on the issue was a start, but Connors knew she had to keep tugging and unearth it completely. To pull it all the way out and kill it once and for all.  In order to do that, Connors felt she had to understand the man who raped her, an individual she puts near the top of the list of the most influential people in her life. Believing that fear grows out of ignorance, she set out to discover who he was and where (and what) he came from.

I Will Find You: A Reporter Investigates the Life of the Man Who Raped Her is part memoir, part investigative journalism, an inseparable mix of reporter on assignment and woman on a mission. As she details her investigation going forward, Connors also revisits the past, describing with horrific clarity and heart-wrenching vulnerability the rape and how it shaped her.

It goes without saying this is neither a light read nor an easy one. It is, however, a powerful and important one. Written with the care and prowess of a journalist and the emotional insight of someone forever changed by violence, I Will Find You provides a look not only at rape culture, but race, abuse, and power. It is a story of survival and adaptation.

When I first heard about the book, I assumed the title referred to Connors' desire and intent to find out about her rapist. As I read, the title took on other meanings as well. The phrase was whispered into Connors' ear by her rapist, giving those words a power and meaning they hadn't had before.

But in the end, I felt the title most aptly refers to Connors herself. Over the course of her investigation, Connors not only finds out about her rapist, but about herself.

STREET SENSE:  I applaud Connors for shining such a bright light on her experiences, especially with the openness and honesty she appears to bring to this work. The issues of shame and self-blame are heavy themes, and I can only hope writing about them helped both Connors and every reader who opens this book, whether or not they have been victimized. Understanding is powerful and while this book is not easy or pleasant, I felt it was important to bear witness by reading, as difficult as the subject matter might be. I am impressed with Connors the author and Connors the human being. I highly recommend the book to anyone who is not otherwise triggered by the subjects addressed.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  You wouldn't think there would be many "favorite" passages in a book such as this, but Connors writes with such ease and elegance there were many, of which this is just one:

From my position above, I accepted it as a necessary plot element. I was not sad, or scared, hovering up there..I understood that the girl on her knees was alone, but soon she would not be. She would join all the other girls who had been raped and then killed. I wondered if this was how they felt when it happened to them. Detached. Alone. Floating out of time. All those dead, lovely girls. I still think of them, all the time. We printed their high school graduation pictures in our newspaper, their faces turned and tilted by the photographer so that they seemed to be gazing toward a future they had just started to imagine, their long hair so shiny you could practically smell the Herbal Essences shampoo when you looked at them...The reporters took their graduation pictures back to the newsroom, and when the time came they covered the trials of the men who killed them. If the time came. And then, a week or a month later, we forgot them. We went on to the net one. There was always a next one. I pictured all the girls together, somewhere. Maybe they were watching this happen, just as I was, and waiting for me.

COVER NERD SAYS: This is a first for me, I think. When I first received the galley, there was no cover. I didn't look the book up on any source before I finished reading and went looking for it to add to my review. I have to say, this cover would have lured me in easily. I'm not generally a fan of fade-outs, but when done well they can have a great impact. Considering the theme of this book, I think here the stark palette and missing/faded text is both appropriate and significant. Well done.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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