Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (1814)

I first read Mansfield Park, when I was a teenager and had been disappointed in it at the time. This past June, I listened to Mansfield Park as an audiobook on the long drive from Maine to Virginia, which meant that I became really invested and would gasp when Mrs. Norris said something particularly condescending to or about Fanny. It did drag toward the end, I thought, but overall I liked re-reading it. [The following review contains spoilers and since it’s a classic novel, I’m being lazy and not providing a summary of the plot.]

In the popular mind, Jane Austen’s novels are often thought of as great romances, sometimes to reductive effect. Mansfield Park is satire, and moral dilemmas, and not a romance at all. Sure, in the end: Fanny marries Edward, but that is just a matter of tidiness, not really the drive of Mansfield Park at all.

In that vein, Fanny’s rejection of Henry Crawford is refreshing. He fits most of the parameters of the “reformed rake” that populates many of today’s romance novels (not knocking the genre, just citing the trope). All of the other characters, including Edward, are encouraging Fanny to accept Henry but she doesn’t like him and doesn’t think he has good character, and she likes someone else. Fanny may be lacking the spark that other Austen heroines have, but this thread of stubbornness was welcome.

If there is an emotional center, it may be about Fanny finding a place to belong. Like Eliza Doolittle, her refinement at her uncle’s house has made her a bad fit for her original home. But because of her parentage, she’s considered a lower tier resident at Mansfield Park. Mostly though, the book’s merits are in its characterization. Nearly all of the characters display a good deal of thoughtlessness and vanity, but in such well-drawn, differing varieties. The Crawfords are the objects of fascination as characters who are fun but rather morally ruined. Mrs. Norris is the entertainment by being delectably awful. Mrs. Bertram is indolence, in extremis. And so on.

While it’s possible that some readers have taken Fanny into their heart, I’m afraid I cannot, though I did identify with her at points because Fanny is such a classic introvert. I definitely liked Mansfield Park much more this time than when I was a teenager, as I can more fully appreciate Austen’s incisive observations of human character. But there wasn’t a lot of warmth to attach to in this one, no fondness like I developed for Mr. Tilney and Catherine on my re-read of Northanger Abbey.

Excerpts from others’ reviews:

Care’s Online Book Club – “Jane Austen’s ability to be cool and snide is beyond compare.”

The Parchment Girl – “In short, Mansfield Park is a serious novel and not for the faint of heart, but it is worth it.”

Wuthering Expectations – “I do not think that Mansfield Park is more ethically complex nor that the portrayals of the characters are so different than in Austen’s other novels, but that the creation of a thicker fictional world, and the characters’ interaction with it, is itself a major artistic achievement.”


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The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden

greengage-summer1958. Pan Books. Paperback. 187 pages.

Recommendation from: A Book Blog of One’s Own


I read the lovely Greengage Summer back in June, my first time reading Rumer Godden. Inspired by an event from Godden’s own childhood, the book is about a English family’s vacation to France gone awry. The story is narrated by a thirteen-year-old girl, Cecil Grey, the second of five children. She explains that three years separates each of the siblings, as “Father’s expeditions usually lasted three years.” (He is some sort of botanist.) One fraught day at the beach, their exasperated mother decides that they must go visit the battlefields of France (this is after WWI) so they can learn to be less selfish and appreciate what others have sacrificed for them. Their mother whisks the children off to France, to the disapproval of her much older brother, Uncle William. She almost immediately falls seriously ill, and by the time she and the children arrive at their hotel Les Oeillets, she must be hospitalized. Too proud to send for Uncle William’s help, she implores a fellow Englishman at the hotel, named Eliot, to look after the children at the hotel.

The children basically become wards of the hotel for weeks. They roam the grounds, and have their favorite spots and activities soon picked out (the title refers to the hotel’s greengage plums upon which they gorge themselves.) Though concerned for their mother, they also revel in the new sights and culture and their relative freedom.

Through Cecil’s eyes, you see the children, particularly the oldest girl, Joss, try to navigate the world of the adults of Les Oeillets. The children come to love Eliot, as he listens to them, and treats their concerns and interests seriously. But to use my favorite quote from the movie The Matador, “Just because we shared a laugh, doesn’t mean I’m not unsavory.” The reader quickly realizes that Eliot’s motivations regarding the children are not purely compassionate. In part, he carries on with them because of an infatuation with Joss, who is sixteen and beautiful. But he is also playacting with them, acting out a different life as if he were a family man.

The hotel is run by Madame Corbet and Mademoiselle Zizi, who may lean toward French stereotype, but are fascinating characters all the same. They are often motivated by jealousy. Madame Corbet is jealous of Mlle Zizi’s time with Eliot. Mlle Zizi is jealous of Joss. Joss is provoked, then, to asserting herself as an adult, though she is not really ready to be one. Cecil herself is envious of Joss’s beauty, feeling herself the plainer sibling, but she is not spiteful about it like Mlle Zizi.

Other hotel staff and guests fill out the remaining adult characters, including an older teenager named Paul who fills Cecil in on all the history behind the hotel personalities. His view of the world, shaped by a life of hard knocks, is rather shocking to Cecil but an education in its own way.

I loved the characters of the children most of all. I have a fondness of stories that feature strong sibling bonds, and there is plenty on show in The Greengage Summer. Each child has a distinct personality, and their knowledge of each other’s strengths and flaws rang true as a portrait of sibling life. And though the story is narrated by Cecil, there are bursts of commentary from the siblings, and even Uncle William at times – framed as if Cecil is consulting them as she writes their story. These commentaries and Cecil’s own narration hum with portent; there are hints of awful events and revelations to come. At the same time, the book is able to conjure up the languor of summer, the pains and pleasures of coming-of-age, the delight in travel.

The writing is insightful, evocative and entertaining. The structure of this short novel is impeccable. I read somewhere, or perhaps one of my fellow book club members remarked, that Greengage Summer‘s pacing is like that of a play – a comparison to which I fully agree. There are nearly demarcated acts, and with each act, the story builds and builds until the brilliant conclusion, where you realize that the childrens’ story intersects with a completely different type of narrative, and they are “rescued” in a way that I found hilarious and poignant at the same time.

One of my favorite books so far this year, The Greengage Summer was an excellent early summer read. Here is an excerpt from the beginning of the book, which reads like the voice-over narration of a classic film’s first scene (perhaps the camera is floating through the aisles between the orchard trees as it is spoken):

On and off, all that hot French August, we made ourselves ill from eating the greengages. Joss and I felt guilty; we were still at the age when we thought being greedy was a childish fault, and this gave our guilt a tinge of hopelessness because, up to then, we had believed that as we grew older our faults would disappear, and none of them did. Hester of course was quite unabashed; Will – though he was called Willmouse then – Willmouse and Vicky were too small to reach any but the lowest branches, but they found fruit fallen in the grass; we were all strictly forbidden to climb the trees.

The greengages had a pale-blue bloom, especially in the shade, but in the sun the flesh showed amber through the clear-green skin; if it were cracked the juice was doubly warm and sweet. Coming from the streets and small front gardens of Southstone, we had not been let loose in an orchard before; it was no wonder we ate too much.

“Summer sickness,” said Mademoiselle Zizi.

“Indigestion,” said Madame Corbet.

I do not know which it was, but ever afterwards, in our family, we called that the greengage summer.

Cue title card.

Excerpts from others’ reviews:

Bibliolathas – “Godden’s characterisation of [Cecil’s] naïveté yet concomitant loss of innocence is astonishingly good.”

The Literary Stew – “This is a book that grows on you. Whenever I read something about Godden, images from the book come back to me. Flashes of that summer, lying on the grass eating the greengages, having the first taste of champagne and exploring the countryside.”

Teresa at Shelf Love – “Godden very wisely makes it clear that Joss’s growth in itself is just a thing that happens, that she is in no way to blame for what others think . . . Her attention to Joss’s predicament and Cecil’s mixed feelings about this new Joss is consistently respectful and honest.”

A Work in Progress – “Godden is obviously quite comfortable residing in the heart and mind of a child yet she tells this very nuanced story with simple sophistication . . .  I love her writing style which is so lush and fitting for the story she told.”


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National Book Festival 2015

On Saturday, I attended the National Book Festival 2015 in downtown D.C. This is the 11th time I’ve attended, and the 2nd time it has been held in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. It used to be held on the National Mall. The convention center is huge but so were the crowds. Friends who went to see authors such as Tom Brokaw or David McCullough were turned away at the door because the rooms were full.

In between attending the authors’ presentations, I was madly texting in order to rendezvous with seven friends (including one cousin) who were also at the festival. Good news: I know a lot of bookish people! Bad news: my phone’s battery ran out.

In the midst of all the madness, I enjoyed seeing five authors:

Louise Erdrich received the Library of Congress award for American fiction. I was ten minutes late to her session, so I may have missed the actual awarding, but I was able to hear the majority of her interview with Marie Arana, former editor of the Washington Post’s Book World. At one point, Arana listed off authors that Erdrich has named as literary influences: Willa Cather, William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, Katherine Anne Porter, Jane Austen, George Eliot, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Flannery O’Connor. Of the last, Erdrich remarked with a smile, “that dark dark blackness in [O’Connor’s] heart is in my heart too.”

Arana and Erdrich both pushed back against the magical realism label sometimes assigned to her work. Erdrich sees the label as a way to “take care” of story elements that occur outside of reality, a way of not acknowledging that there are inexplicable things in the world.

Erdrich said that The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse is one of her favorites of her own books, which just strengthened my desire to read that book. Asked by an audience member about contemporary authors that she connects to, Erdrich first mentioned fellow Festival authors Marilynne Robinson, Jane Smiley and Marlon James. Then she said she was currently reading through Joyce Carol Oates’ work, and Annie Proulx, and Elena Ferrante’s books. Erdrich also highly recommended The Door by Hungarian author Magda Szabo which is about a friendship between two women and features the best dog character she’s ever read.

After lunch, I went to see Claudia Rankine. I’d seen her once before when she came to my college over ten years ago. She was a guest speaker at the poetry workshop class I was taking. I still have her book Plot from taking that class. But the book I brought with me to the Festival was her newest work, Citizen.

After taking the stage, Rankine said “this book wouldn’t have happened without my friends”. In the process of writing this book, she had asked her friends: can you tell me about a moment that was ordinary and then racism interrupted that moment? The friends’ immediate answer was no, they couldn’t specifically recall, but inevitably, after a couple of days, they would contact her, and then the stories would “pour out like water.” Some of these stories are found in the pages of Citizen.

Rankine read at least four passages from Citizen. Her reading of the “Stop-and-Frisk” was particularly powerful – especially the repeating refrain of “And you are not the guy and still you fit the description because there is only one guy who is always the guy fitting the description.”

An audience member’s question compared her work to Ta-Nahesi Coates’ Between the World and Me, which I was glad of, because I had been reading both Coates’ book and Rankine’s book in the week leading up to the Festival. Rankine said she saw a similarity in that they both stayed close to home in order to go wide.

Of Black Lives Matter, Rankine called the movement a revolutionary interruption, radical in trying to change the interior space of Americans, in not allowing the anonymity of privilege while black people are being killed.

I later lined up to get my book signed by Claudia. She had a very warm presence, as she had on the stage. She signed her inscription by crossing out her printed name and writing “me, Claudia”.

IMG_0910An afternoon session I had planned on attending was full, so I wandered around a little bit before getting in line for the “Contemporary Life” room. I had already planned to attend a 4:25pm session in that room, and figured why not just plant myself there early. It turned out that the 3:30pm author was Hector Tobar, whose new nonfiction book Deep Down Dark tells the story of the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped for 69 days after a mine collapse in 2010. They were eventually rescued, a drama I remember seeing played out on live television. Tobar said, as a journalist, it is most important to communicate that you, the journalist, are a human being and that (paraphrasing) “I am not just here to mine you for facts and you are not just a source of facts.”

Several co-workers had passed around a copy of Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn‘s book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, which is what drove me to attend their talk. Their newest book is called A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity. The talk came across as oddly disjointed – perhaps it was an unevenly edited version of a longer talk they are more used to giving. Still, I am intrigued by the topic which is “the emerging science of changing the world”, a data-driven examination of what actually works to make lives better. WuDunn emphasized early intervention, those critical first two years of a child’s life as the brain is going through so much transformation. Kristof also compared what methods would help ensure regular school attendance by children in certain developing countries. Part of the solution is de-worming children (the worms deprive children of the nutrition in their food, and the ill health that results discourages school attendance.)

The last author I saw was Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower (about Al-Qaeda) and Going Clear (about Scientology), and his newest book, Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin and Sadat at Camp David. I’ve read Going Clear. Wright spent the majority of the talk on the subject of Thirteen Days in September. It’s a historical moment that I know very little about, so I was fascinated by Wright’s descriptions of Carter, Begin and Sadat and definitely want to read the book.

Afterward, five friends and I regrouped, grabbed pizza at nearby Wise Guys, and shared about the authors that we had seen. My friend Jenny was geeking out over a sign language interpreter that had seamlessly interpreted a bilingual reading. She had hit the book sales area three times – I had been with her when she excitedly realized that poet Homero Aridjis was standing in front of her just as she was reaching for one of his books on the sales table. My cousin Jason and friend Kristin swapped notes on Evan Osnos, and his book on China.

Pizza finished, some of us wandered off to get gelato and then we dispersed into the night, tired but bookishly content.


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Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor

Lips Touch Three Times

2009. Arthur A. Levine Books. Hardcover. 265 pages.

With illustrations by Jim Di Bartolo.

Recommended by: my co-worker Kim


Lips Touch: Three Times contains three stories: “Goblin Fruit”, “Spicy Little Curses Such as These” and “Hatchling.”

I read the entirety of Lips Touch: Three Times last night, loved it, and immediately knew what I wanted to say about it. First off, Taylor is a natural storyteller – her writing has got a lovely particularity to it that is delightful, and evocative. She knows exactly the details to include.

Kizzy’s family wasn’t normal.

They had no TV but knew hundreds of songs – all of them in a language that Kizzy’s teachers had never even heard of – and they sat on rickety chairs in the yard and sang them together, their voices as plaintive as wolves’, howling at the moon. There were a lot of hairy, blue-eyed uncles strumming old, beautiful guitars, and stout aunts who dried flowers to smoke in their pipes. Cousins were numerous. Small and swift, they were always aswirl in the women’s skirts or dodging the goat like wee shrill matadors . . . They did things in their scattered, crooked sheds that most suburban kids would only ever see in a documentary, or perhaps on a church mission to a third-world country – things involving axes and offal and an intimate understanding of how to turn an animal into a meal.

These three compelling, high-stakes stories all involve humans interacting with otherworldly beings and places. As the title promises, all three stories involve a kiss, and each story’s kiss has its own layered meaning – it might be a kiss of revelation, or of sudden belief and fear, or of destruction. It changes things.

In all three stories, there is a young woman and an older woman. Each story is about coming of age, with the fantasy elements often serving as metaphors for the transition into adulthood. The older women each try to protect the younger women from danger, based on their own experiences, and are not without influence. But each story shows how the young woman’s path is ultimately her own (though it could be argued that the young girl in “Hatchling” has less agency about what happens to her than the others.) The main male characters – the other half of those kisses – range from stop!danger to he-means-well to long-game revolutionary.

The stories have a pleasing progression to them. The first, “Goblin Fruit,” takes place mostly in the human world. The second story, “Spicy Little Curses”, takes place half in early 20th century India and half in Taylor’s loose rendition of a Hindu Hell, where an elderly woman barters with a demon for the lives of innocents. The third story, “Hatchling”, has the most elaborate world-building yet, prominently featuring a nightmarish kingdom ruled by an immortal queen who keeps young humans as pets.

In her Author’s Note at the end, Taylor wrote: “Like a magpie, I am a scavenger of shiny things: fairy tales, dead languages, weird folk beliefs, fascinating religions, and more.” She puts her collection of “shiny things” to good use here in Lips Touch: Three Times. I also want to give a shout-out to the illustrations that precede each story. I liked how they depicted the backstories of each of the older women.

Excerpts from others’ reviews:

Capricious Reader – “She’s a modern day fairy tale writer if I ever saw one.”

The Readventurer – “There is passion and love and tenderness in these stories. I remember shivering and smiling at the end of each one.”

Six Boxes of Books – “These are gorgeous stories, pulse-beatingly romantic at times, just a little terrifying at other times. Sleeping Beauty curses, children’s lives bargained for in hell, ghosts walking clockwise around people for protection, one-eyed birds spying for the immortal queen–I think all the mythology in this book has its basis in real mythology and religion, which is probably what gives one the shock of recognition while reading it; but it’s used in new, creative, delicious ways.”


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Intimate: An American Family Photo Album by Paisley Rekdal

Intimate Rekdal2012. Tupelo Press. Softcover. 261 pages.


After seeing Paisley Rekdal speak at the National Book Festival last year, I bought Intimate from the book sale area. I read it a few months ago, in two sittings. The book blends poetry, photographs, biography, imagined biography, memoir and essay. On one level, the book’s subject is the photographer Edward S. Curtis and his Apsaroke assistant and interpreter, Alexander Upshaw. Curtis famously photographed American Indians in the early 20th century, but only according to his ideas of authenticity: no contemporary clothes, no technology, no mixed-race children. At the Denver Art Museum, I saw a display which showed how Curtis erased an “errant” clock from one of his photographs.


The erased clock is the circular shape between the two men, on the floor.

Thematically, then, Intimate is largely about self-identity. Rekdal’s mother is Chinese and her father is of Norwegian descent, and Rekdal mulls her mixed-race heritage alongside of Curtis’ legacy and Upshaw’s life to great, cumulative effect. Her book embodies what Rekdal said at the Festival: that connectivity is the primary goal of non-fiction. Why does this idea go with that idea? Why is this relevant today?

Intimate is a contemplative but also incisive book. Passages echo phrases and thoughts from earlier in the book. Opinions are asserted, and then re-examined. Though describing the book as a blend of writing styles may make it sound like an academic exercise, I found Intimate to be an accessible read, and was excited to return to it after my first sitting.

A couple of excerpts:

What strikes me now about the Curtis photos is how their beauty makes the vanishing of the American Indians seem not only inevitable but impossible to protest. (This, Curtis writes, is one of the stages through which from the beginning the Indians were destined to pass.) Though his sitters may be starving outside the frame, they look so attractive inside it: To be moved by their beauty replaces having to be moved politically on their behalf.

But if I do not meet the requirements of Chinese authenticity, neither do I always meet the requirements of mixed-race authenticity, if appearance is that identity’s defining factor. Strange facts, which other mixed-race people may have noticed as well: the face changes shape, the hair changes color. Some start looking more dark, whereas I’ve become more white. Many people are surprised to hear about my mixed ethnicity, though many others aren’t. Either way, I cannot seem to think of myself without thinking of this slice of me that remains absent, persistent and obvious yet invisible. I cannot see myself without seeing first my audience, those who are seeing me.

Excerpts from others’ reviews:

Dao Strom on Goodreads –I read this book in one day, captivated by its form, its daring, its reaching, its beautiful writing and images…

Shin Yu on Goodreads – “I was not able to focus on any aspect of the multiple narratives at work and felt that the collage approach worked against her in this collection.”

Courtney McDermott on – “The beauty of the book’s form is that it so perfectly marries the content—fragments of writing about fragments of history.”


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Catching up with some mini-reviews! In order from the most recommended to the least recommended, with the last book rating quite far below the rest.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Smith’s wry, tumbling prose sucked me into this saga of two families living in England during the last few decades of the 20th century. It’s the writing style that I most loved – laughing as it blissfully skewered everything and everyone in sight and enjoying how it tossed around teeth metaphors like candy. I thought the plotting had its weak moments, particularly in the contrivances of the final climactic scene where everyone’s separate interests converge in one time and place. However, I would gladly read another book by Zadie Smith.

Crocodile on a Sandbank (Amelia Peabody #1) by Elizabeth Peters

Fun, compulsively readable mystery set in late 19th century Egypt. Loved Amelia’s take-charge attitude and the way she acquires a companion and friend in Evelyn. Though I don’t have a great track record for following up with mystery series, I hope to read more of the Amelia Peabody series in the future.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

First Rainbow Rowell book I heard of, and the first one I’ve read. I liked Rowell’s choice to set the novel in 1999; it makes the small-town newspaper setting poignant, without being heavy-handed. The banter between the two friends over email is fun. The romantic plotline is sweet though far from untroubled. I rolled with it, but it’s vulnerable to astute analysis – as I’ve read in other bloggers’ reviews.

Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen

Listened to this book on audio while on a long drive up to Maine. In brief: a woman plots an elaborate revenge on her no-good husband who thought he had successfully murdered her. Skinny Dip is darkly humorous, baring its teeth when it comes to the destruction of the Everglades, which is a central part of the narrative. It went on a little too long, but the ending was satisfying.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin

This fantasy novel had some great world-building especially the debauched kingdom city recklessly using defeated gods as their slaves. I enjoyed the matter-of-fact way the protagonist dealt with the fact of her likely doom at the start of the novel. As much as I enjoyed a number of the elements, however, I didn’t love the novel overall. By the time it ended, I didn’t feel the urge to read more of this series.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Budding cinephile Anna is sent to an elite boarding school in France for her senior year, to bolster her father’s conception of his own prestige. She is adopted by a small group of friends and falls in love with one of them. I enjoyed Anna’s inner monologue as she navigated the new school. The name-checking of translated fiction like Yoshimoto’s Kitchen was a nice touch. But the angst of Anna’s romantic adventures was more than I could take. The teenagers wander around making huge dramatic public scenes and my reaction was that they were embarrassing themselves and bothering strangers who were just trying to go about their day.


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Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer

“It’s easy to forget that the harm done to a rape victim who is disbelieved can be at least as devastating as the harm done to an innocent man who is unjustly accused of rape. And without question, the former happens much more frequently than the latter.”

MissoulaKrakauer’s book Missoula, published this year, describes the course of several rape cases that occurred in the college town of Missoula, Montana. The book details the circumstances of the assaults as well as the response by police, university administration, the Missoula County Attorney’s office, the media, and the citizens of Missoula.

Missoula is a compelling but deeply upsetting book to read, not only because of the assaults on these women, but also the traumatic injustice of how their cases were indifferently and even hostilely handled by authorities. After one woman reported her rape to the police, an officer asked her if she had a boyfriend. She answered “No, I don’t. Why?” “And he said something to the effect of “Well, sometimes girls cheat on their boyfriends, and regret it, and then claim they were raped.”

This conversation is just one example of a seemingly omnipresent and reflexive response to rape: an immediate suspicion and in many cases, a persistent belief, that the rape accusation is false. Even in the case of Beau Donaldson, who confessed on tape to raping his longtime friend Allison Huguet, his family and friends still spread rumors that it was a false accusation.

Then there were those people who didn’t participate in that level of denial, but still resisted the idea of Donaldson serving real time for his crime. Witnesses testified at Donaldson’s sentencing hearing that what he did was “out of character” and a “mistake”, despite a second woman coming forward to testify that Donaldson had also sexually assaulted her (her friends had to break down the door to stop it.) In this case and in others in the book, there is a disgusting amount of community hand-wringing over the possible ruination of these men’s reputations and futures – disgusting because of the substantially lower amount of concern given to the traumatized victims.

Krakauer’s book focuses on both the university adjudication process and the criminal justice system’s handling of these rape cases. Although criticism is aimed at both the police and the university officials, I think the Missoula County Attorney’s Office possibly edged out the others for receiving the harshest criticism in the book.

According to the Department of Justice’s investigation of the Missoula County Attorney’s Office, from January 2008 through April 2012 the Missoula Police Department referred 114 reports of sexual assault of adult women to the MCAO for prosecution. A “referral” indicated that the police department had completed its investigation of the case in question, determined that there was probable cause to charge the individual accused of sexual assault, and recommended that the case be prosecuted. Of the 114 sexual assaults referred for prosecution, however, the MCAO filed charges in only 14 of those cases.

Among the people working for the MCAO, Kirsten Pabst is particularly singled out for criticism. She was the supervisor of MCAO’s sexual assault division during all but two months of the above time range. Her first appearance in the book is a description of her agreement to testify in support of an accused rapist, Calvin Harris, during a University Court proceeding in November 2011. Pabst had declined to prosecute him in criminal court. In her testimony to the University, Pabst characterized the case as “clear-cut”, though she had never talked to the victim, and Pabst’s description of the case got many pertinent details wrong.

Pabst resigned from MCAO in March 2012 to start her own law firm, and about a month later, became co-counsel in defending Univ. of Montana quarterback Jordan Johnson in a very contentious and public rape trial. Her and her fellow defense counsel’s court behavior is weaselly and low; Krakauer points out that the current justice system fosters such behavior. In the end, Johnson was found not guilty, and Pabst was later elected to be the Missoula County Attorney, boosted by citizens pleased by her defense of the quarterback of their beloved football team. She still holds that office. (And is none too pleased about Krakauer’s book.)

Krakauer makes it clear from the beginning that Missoula is not unusual in the amount of rape cases it has, or in its many failures in handling those cases. This book is not about an anomaly, but about a national problem. Because the public and the justice system still do not grasp the realities of non-stranger rape, serial sexual predators are able to assault a number of victims without fear of being caught, because they don’t fit the stereotype of the “man jumping out from the bushes.”

I still remember the shock and anger I felt when I first encountered the reflexive belief that false rape accusations are prevalent. I was a college sophomore and had just learned about the molestation of a teenager I knew. I told some friends about it, and my friend’s boyfriend’s immediate response was to pontificate about false rape accusations and how they can destroy men’s reputations. Neither the victim or the perpetrator was anyone he knew – it happened in a different part of the country entirely. I was furious. He treated a story of someone I cared about as an opportunity to highlight what he apparently saw as the more pressing concern.

I’m glad I read Missoula, despite the drain on my emotions and the rise in my blood pressure. I’m glad Krakauer used his authorial stature and his research acumen to address this area of injustice.

I do recommend this book, though I should add that I read it as someone who has never been sexually assaulted or witnessed a sexual assault. Anyone who has qualms about reading it due to personal experience should feel okay with skipping it. Maybe read some reviews of it, short interviews of the author, etc if you want to be informed without going through the intense retelling of the rape cases.

Excerpts from others’ reviews:

Amy’s Book Obsession – “What an important exploration of rape and the justice system, using Missoula as a case study! After working with sexual assault victims for many years, this book really resonated with the experiences that I saw with my own clients (and a few friends who experienced rape & didn’t have great experiences with the justice system).” – “Krakauer never shies from providing riveting accounts on the toughest of topics, attitudes towards acquaintance rape in Missoula are as scary as any of the other material he’s covered.”

The Well-Read Redhead – “While I expected Krakauer to take particular issue with Jordan Johnson’s case (as he was acquitted of rape), I was compelled by the fact that his book does not attack the verdict itself, but rather the way in which it was reached.  Krakauer does not attempt to play judge-and-jury . . . what he does do is dismantle the appalling tactics used by the defense throughout the trial, as well as the many problems with how the prosecution moved forward with the victim’s case.”


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