Tale of Two Stories

I love to read. This week’s pick reminded me of a story I read two years ago. This is my tale of two stories–both well written, but two very different perspectives.

TrainEarly in January of 2014, when my own private hell broke loose in my mind, I was taking an advanced fiction writing course as a part of my bachelor’s degree requirements at Oregon State. As one of our assignments, we read “Train,” by Alice Munro.

I wrote this in my assignment: “I find in this story an interesting juxtaposition of a circular story that runs along the sides of a straight railroad track. Jackson is trying to run away, but his life keeps turning in circles, despite his horizontal trips up and down the railway train. The story essentially is about figuring out what Jackson is running away from and why.”

That’s what I wrote, but my professor didn’t see my real reaction. At the end of the story, I flung the book across the room and gritted my teeth. Then, like Jackson, I tried to run away from the subject matter.

[Spoiler alert] In the story, Jackson returns a war hero, but skips out on his impending marriage. Throughout the story, he runs from every relationship that threatens to become intimate. At the end, the reader sees a childhood memory that explains why—his stepmother molested him in the bathtub.

Reading “Trains” catalyzed a mental journey down a long, dark track. Memories popped up from my own childhood. I tried to outrun them, but they caught up with me.tunnel

 I was that powerless, lonely little girl again. Shock from the trauma jarred me as though it had all happened yesterday. It was as though I’d been riding along and enjoying beautiful countryside scenery, and then traveled through a tunnel of horror, a myriad of scenes long forgotten played over and over like movie reels.

 

Cut forward to January 2016. I’ve read countless nonfiction books about childhood sexual abuse and healing. Lots of memoirs and Christian living books, but no fiction. I just haven’t had the nerve to open one up. That is, until recently when I downloaded Watching the Tree Limbs, by Mary DeMuth.

watchingthetreelimbsThe main character, Maranatha, grew up in Burl, TX, a town brewing sweet tea and secrets. Nine-year-old Maranatha’s deepest secret is that a bully keeps raping her in the parking lot. If she tells, he’ll kill the only family she’s got left—a surly aunt who doesn’t seem to want her around.

Maranatha’s journey echoes many of those I’ve read and the one I experienced myself. Her shame, the blame she places on herself, and the desperate desire for a parent who cares struck a familiar chord. It was almost like reading all of the real accounts of child sexual abuse, including Mary DeMuth’s memoir. Confusion, pain, shame—Mary captured them all as beautifully as Alice Munro did in “Trains.”

The one element Watching the Tree Limbs contains that “Trains” doesn’t?

Redemption.

Not redemption for the perpetrator, but for the victim. I won’t spoil the story by spilling all the details, but needless to say, this book didn’t make me want to throw it across the room. (Which is good, because I read it on my Kindle).

I read a lot less fiction than I used to, but I still see the value of story. For healing, compassion, instruction. Someone else’s journey, even if fictional, often parallels one of our own. railroad tracks

If you want a straight line into the mind of someone sexually abused, I highly recommend Watching the Tree Limbs and its sequel, Wishing on Dandelions.

What about you? What’s on your reading list in 2016? Do you prefer nonfiction or fiction, and why? Please join the conversation in the comments.

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4 comments

  1. I’ve heard you mention this author and hope to read her work someday. I just downloaded Moon Over Edisto, written by Beth Webb Hart. She is a successful author and also happens to be my daughter’s HS creative writing teacher! I’m in a group that reads one non-fiction book a month, so squeezing in the fiction titles can be challenging. Thanks for spurring me on towards reading, rather than watching! Flipping on the TV can be too easy 🙂

    1. Maresa, I’ll have to put Moon Over Edisto on my reading list. Thank you for the recommendation! I kept track of the books I read last year (24), and would like to increase that to at least 36. Mostly, I want to read Christian living and writing craft books, but I do plan to sneak in a novel here and there.

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