THINGS WE DIDN’T TALK ABOUT WHEN I WAS A GIRL BY JEANNIE VANASCO
The epigraph and question that opens Jeannie Vanasco’s memoir-in-conversation comes from a poem by Paisley Rekdal: “But what is the word for what I experienced after?” Throughout Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl, Vanasco undertakes this impossible task of articulating the before and the after of her rape by Mark—a close friend; trying to name, understand, and further the larger #MeToo conversation.
Vanasco’s books is composed of a series of present-day conversations with Mark, where her questions and his answers—their responses to each other—are pulled apart, replayed again and again, weighed and considered. This is not just a book that asks the hard questions of how seemingly good people can do terrible things, or why those we trust choose to harm us, but interrogates why we perform gender, in spite of the damage it causes? Why we buy into societal structures that dismiss and discredit victims?
Despite the weight of this book, despite the painful subject matter, it is Vanasco’s generosity and openness that left me in quiet awe. Vanasco obfuscates nothing, not even self-criticism or doubt or complexity. She writes, movingly: “This is hard, much harder than I thought it’d be [...] I occupy different planes of time. I’m reliving the conversation just as I’m reliving the assault just as I’m reliving my friendship with Mark.”
And Vanasco displays a gift for listening to those around her—partner, friends, students—that expands these conversations in unexpected and significant ways, into other directions, other spaces, some of them involving revelation, even healing. By inviting the reader into these imperfect conversations, Vanasco opens up space for other difficult conversations, perhaps with our own fathers, brothers, friends, or selves.
—Review by Joy Clark