... sets the canon of #MeToo-era creative nonfiction on fire ... This is a slow-burning, reverberating meditation on the nuances of morality, masculinity, and punishment ... messy, thoughtful, and illuminating ... With this publication, Vanasco investigates whether understanding one’s abuser can break the cycle of abuse. Inimitable.
This meta-commentary about the book itself is all over, making a reader feel like we're going through the process — of writing, of remembering, of approaching a deeply nuanced topic — in real time along with the author ... Even though Vanasco worries, in these pages, that some readers will be upset at how much of a voice she gives the rapist, I think all the other voices — hers, especially — overpower Mark. But he, of course, was granted the choice to consent.
... a thoughtful, conflicted, harrowing examination of what Mark did--with his words alongside her own ... aware of itself, frequently commenting on process and prospective readership. This kind of self-regard is difficult to pull off, but it is clearly Vanasco's natural style, and she wields it expertly ... Vanasco is very alert to the times, feeling prompted by #MeToo, Trump's presidency and her creative writing students' disclosures of sexual assaults. She is very alert, in general--it seems a personality trait--and one of the most intriguing artistic qualities of this book is its vigilant self-awareness ... Clearly this is an important and timely book. Even in a world that can seem brimming with stories similar to Vanasco's, hers stands out ... This narrator is tough, vulnerable and meticulous; the resulting memoir is heartfelt, painful and essential.
...in this memoir, questions beget more questions, and few are sufficiently answered. Trauma cannot be tied with a tidy bow ... Vanasco’s prose sometimes feels like a stream-of-consciousness seesaw, leaving readers disoriented and frustrated. But nowhere near as disoriented and frustrated as Vanasco feels as she bends over backward to comfort and shield Mark, to thank him for talking with her ... Understanding the enemy is part of her motive, but it’s not the crux. 'The point of this project is to show what seemingly nice guys are capable of,' she writes ... [Mark's] story dominates the book, but other men have also violated Vanasco. These stories are just as gutting ... I’m not a perfect victim, Vanasco confesses. There’s no such thing. And that fear of not being believed is what scares so many into silence.
... touches on the conversations people have about sexual assault and more important, the dialogs[sic] not had ... This fiercely written, sobering account of actions that alter lives forever is recommended for students of sociology, gender studies, and psychology, as well as general readers wishing to learn more about the effects of sexual assault and rape.
Vanasco begins the book with meandering discussions of memory and writing as she describes her search for the man she hasn’t spoken to in 14 years. But the tension accelerates and the structure tightens when she finds 'Mark,' and he agrees to several recorded conversations ... At times, Vanasco downplays her pain and the depth of her trauma to Mark, aware of yet unable to correct what she calls 'gender performing.' Those moments can make for frustrating reading. But they provide a vital examination of a kind of reflexive niceness, familiar to many women, which can create a feeling of safety by deflecting conflict, while also inhibiting accountability and growth ... What Vanasco’s memoir lacks in research-oriented context, it makes up for in honesty. She has created a reckoning with injustice told in real time, with all the hesitations and concerns of a wounded heart. She provides few answers but compels readers to ask as we all move forward: How many abusers would act if they knew they’d be called to account, not only legally, but also morally?
There’s a welcome complexity, though, in the reality that Vanasco’s socialization works to her advantage in these delicate interviews. The unruly empathy that draws Mark out is tactically useful, even as it expresses a partial truth ... Vanasco has chosen an oddly meta form for this memoir, writing as if she’s recording the process of working on a book that turns out to be this one. The sense of access to an unmediated first draft is intriguing in the early chapters, but by the latter half, the reader begins to feel at loose ends. Vanasco never stops trying on possible takeaways.
... incredibly honest ... The transcripts of Vanasco’s taped conversations with Mark might not be the most provocative aspects of the memoir. Her unique style --- questioning and probing, written in a deceptively simple voice, honest and thoughtful --- makes Things We Didn't Talk About When I Was a Girl read like a very intimate conversation ... Readers are lucky to be privy to her thoughts and struggles as she seeks understanding, if not forgiveness, and peace, if not resolution, for this and many other acts of violence against her and the women in her life --- indeed, the women in all of our lives ... not a political book or a work of sociological or psychological research. However, perhaps with more and more courageous voices like Vanasco’s, we can begin to find ways to prevent future incidents of sexual violence and abuse, and to provide support and non-judgmental healing for its survivors. This is a hard book to read, both because of the violence it discusses and because of the frankness with which Vanasco addresses the topic and her own experiences. As a narrator, she is both frustrating and appealing; as a memoirist, she is sincere and sound.
With deep self-consciousness, courage, and nuance, the author reveals the inner universe of her survivorship and interrogates the notion that rapists are two-dimensionally evil ... her engrossing, complex, incisive testament to the banality of violence is not a desolate narrative. Instead, Vanasco invites her readers to understand the complicated humanity involved in both causing and experiencing harm, leaving the limits and possibilities of accountability and healing as urgent, open questions ... An extraordinarily brave work of self- and cultural reflection.
... powerful ... unadorned prose ... This is a painful reminder of the ugly ways some men treat women, and Vanasco’s nuanced story will resonate with those who’ve endured sexual inappropriateness in any form.