A young woman grapples with a long history of sexual abuse in this debut novel.
In Montreal in 1967, 16-year-old Rose’s family has a secret: Her father has been molesting her for years. “I had always been compliant because he had enslaved me at such a young age,” writes Rose as an adult, looking back. “I knew nothing else and until a few years earlier I hadn’t known how wrong this was. Stepford child. Once under his control, I believed I was complicit.” She now manages to avoid her father’s abuse, but she still can’t bring herself to tell her mother about it—although she suspects that she already knows. Rose later goes to college, where she channels her rage into radical politics and drug experimentation. A boyfriend suspects that she’s been abused, although she can’t talk to him about it, either. With the benefit of time—and years of therapy—an adult Rose recounts her story, interspersing her current thoughts between her memories. Other pieces of information are revealed, such as how her father forced her and her brother, Tom, to engage in sexual acts; and how her father had other victims, outside the family, who contacted her later—sometimes in an accusatory manner. As Rose tries to uncover the full scope of what happened to her, Nadler leaps between present and past—featuring Rose the character and Rose the investigator. It results in a fragmented text that effectively suggests the simultaneity of trauma and memory. Chapters are separated by lists, poems, short vignettes, and other items that feel pulled straight from a diary; Nadler’s prose also displays a strong preference for staccato sentences, as well as dramatic imagery: “I was relegated to the back rooms of [my mother’s] consciousness. The back rooms where cigars were smoked and poker played. The back rooms where shady deals were made. Where she would never go.” Although this stylistic choppiness does become overwhelming, at times the book’s sheer emotional weight offers a powerful reading experience.
An upsetting, affecting novel about an attempt to understand trauma.