Five Star review, originally posted here on May 11, 2015.
YES. This book, sadly, needed to happen. For many of us, there is absolutely nothing new or surprising in this book. Nothing. It is 100% on the nose regarding everything that I and too many people already know about the prevalence of sexual assault, the misguided attitudes of responders, and the misinformed attitudes of the public. Lots of us already knew all of this crap. Lots of us have been reading about, writing about, hearing about, or first-hand experiencing these topics for years, with great frustration and sadness. The info has been out there, but many have not listened. This book has already been written a million times.
But this book has not, until now, been written by Jon Krakauer. It needed to be written by John Krakauer. And now it has been.
It’s not that Krakauer is any better at presenting these issues than other writers, speakers, and activists to come before him. He’s good, but others have been good before him. It’s the fact that he is a MALE who, before this book, was already known BY OTHER MALES for his well-written and well-researched work regarding manly stuff. Troop embedment, Everest disasters, murderous cults, fraudulent adventurers: all manly topics that have proved to the general population that he knows his shit.
In other words, he’s not some whiny over-sensitive ugly feminist; he’s a bona fide badass, and he knows what he is doing. When Krakauer talks, people listen. Should it be this way? No. But it is. So we’ll work with it.
Because Krakauer wrote this book, people who have ignored or marginalized these issues, but who respect Krakauer, are forced to perk up their ears and think, “Huh… why would HE write about THIS?” Krakauer’s direct answer to this question, which he saves for the very last chapter of the book, is the exact same reason why anyone else who doesn’t care about this topic should care about this topic; because he was previously ignorant to how prevalent and serious it is, and when he realized how jacked up this all is, he knew he had to do something about it. Krakauer explains that he was blind to the issue of non-stranger rape until a female friend of his wound up in rehab as a consequence of trauma she experienced due to her rapes. He saw that her reactions and symptoms were nearly identical to those of war vets with PTSD. He asked around and was shocked to learn that an insane number of his female friends and acquaintances had also been sexually assaulted by people they knew. He’d had no clue. I would bet that most of Krakauer’s usual readers also have no clue how many of their friends have been so directly impacted. And why would they? Because, as Krakauer makes abundantly clear, there is no privileged status bestowed upon rape victims, and most stay in the shadows, hiding their secret, knowing that stigma is waiting to victimize them all over again.
Krakauer forces readers to understand. He forces them to understand terror and trauma. He forces them to understand why victims don’t come forth. He forces them to understand how we as a society fail our victims. He forces them to understand that, yes, that nice young man who couldn’t hurt a fly COULD indeed do something like this, especially when enabled by a blindly ignorant community. And he forces them to understand that this has happened to someone that they know.
This has happened to someone that YOU know.
This has happened to LOTS of people that you know.
And it sucks. And it’s terrifying. And, like Krakauer has done, we need to admit it, understand it, and try to do something about it. Reading this book is a decent place to start.