One Omaha winter day in November 1978, when Debora Harding was just fourteen, she was abducted at knifepoint from a church parking lot. She was thrown into a van, assaulted, held for ransom, and then left to die as an ice storm descended over the city. Debora survived. But her troubles were far from over. Denial became the family coping strategy offered by her fun-loving, conflicted father and her cruelly resentful mother.
...brave and beautifully written ... These fragments of childhood pain are seen through the shifting lens of Harding’s own, less extreme, struggles with parenting, but her book is more than a heartbreakingly disturbing account of childhood abuse in the US, in the vein of Tara Westover’s Educated. A third, parallel strand explores her love for her kind, devoted father and carefully extracts moments of real happiness from the chaos of her early life. Having braced myself for misery, I found these sections the most impressive part of the book ... There is of course no simple or happy resolution to any of this. Harding doesn’t present herself as a triumphant victim who has successfully shaken off her trauma.
Some memoirs recount riveting stories. Others are notable for their masterful storytelling. Debora Harding’s Dancing With the Octopus: A Memoir of a Crime accomplishes both ... With remarkable perception, Dancing With the Octopus shows how, day by day, year by year, both her criminal assault and family dysfunction left Harding with a lifetime of consequences ... One of the book’s great strengths is how artfully Harding lays out the details of her multifaceted story, weaving in and out of time rather than relying on a chronological timetable ... unique and unforgettable.
This book is personal, deeply and bravely thoughtful, and creatively expressed. Yet it can serve as a tool for the politically engaged ... In a letter to Angela Davis in 1970, [James Baldwin] wrote: “we have been told nothing but lies" ... Harding exposes some such lies, powerfully and clearly.