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When Martha Ramsey was raped at age 13, by a stranger on a country road in New Jersey, she denied being traumatized. She promised herself: "I would be one of the people who came out fine." Her dysfunctional family seemed equally willing to bury the event; immediately after the attack, her alcoholic father offered her the only solace he knew -- a drink. This sharp-edged, startlingly candid, yet lyrically written memoir traces the two decades it took Ramsey, a prize-winning poet who now lives in Vermont, to face not only the experience of rape but the scars it had left on her sexuality and self-image. At 34 she began asking, "The room of rape -- what was it like in there?"
In "Memory," the most compelling of the book's three sections, Ramsey vividly evokes the day of the rape -- from the favorite red dress she wore to the strange shape of the rapist's head. Here Ramsey also charts her confused belief that the rapist "taught" her sex; as a teenager, she vacillated between shame at boys whispering about her ordeal to a blustering pride in her so-called sexual experience. In college, this ambivalence translated into promiscuity, as she searched for a man who could "unrape" her. Later, she uncovered long-suppressed rage towards her mother, who had also been raped as a young woman, yet was unable to alleviate her daughter's pain.
In the final sections, Ramsey touches on her time in therapy groups, and offers multi-faceted perspectives on the event, including interviews she conducted as an adult with friends and family about the rape. Throughout, Ramsey wisely relies on her sensibility and skill as a poet to expose the truth of her ordeal, shared by any victim of a violent crime: "You will not be 'healed' -- cured. But your consciousness can embrace the whole of your hurt self." -- Salon