Book Spotlight: Lucky by Alice Sebold

TRIGGER WARNING: Lucky by Alice Sebold deals with the issues of rape, sexual assault, battery, trials, violence, sexual oppression, abandonment, and PTSD.


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In the last couple of months, I’ve been reading memoirs to get an idea of the format, what gets published, how the writing is, etc. I want to read fascinating stories and learn something at the same time. The focus of my memoir is surviving life-threatening and chronic illness. I have tried to stick to memoirs like that. Yet the description of Alice Sebold’s writing and her book made me want to read it.

And read it all in one day I did. This book pulls no punches. Sebold starts her memoir off with her description of her rape as it happened. She includes every detail from what he did to her, her responses, how she felt, and how it ended. Everything. She included everything. Sebold doesn’t ease you into the story because the story is about her rape as a freshman during college and what transpired because of it. You don’t get eased in because there is nothing easy about being raped. This is my worst fear, and I am thankful every day that I lived another one untouched by it.

Sebold’s writing is gripping, that’s for sure. She dealt with the police in reporting, identifying, and prosecuting her attacker. You read through the trial transcript as it happened with little commentary by Sebold. In some ways, it’s fascinating to read it as the process unfolded. The defendant’s lawyer pursued lines of questioning with the intent to confuse her and get her to contradict herself so that she would come across as an unreliable witness. I know I would be a terrible witness on the stand for my own rape case because I get confused when I’m anxious. In all probability, I would have to take anti-anxiety medication in order to get through it on my own. Sebold doesn’t seem to need any. She doesn’t get too lost and is able to clearly get her point across. After her trial was over, the bailiff said she was the best witness in a rape case that he had seen in his 30 years on the job.

I learned a thing or two about the judicial system. When someone is in a lineup in which they are accused, that person has the right to choose another person to join them in the lineup.The defendent has the right to do this, apparently, in order to induce doubt in the accuser’s mind and words. This favors both the innocent person and the guilty one. The accusing party, however, is always put at a disadvantage. Why should this be? I understand the innocent until proven guilty clause. I do not understand the “and we’ll also ensure that it’s less like the actual defendent will be identified because we’ll let the defendent choose another person who looks like them in the lineup.” In my mind, the latter does not logically flow from the former.

In Sebold’s case, her rapist was able to have a friend of his join him in the lineup. The rapist and his friend share similar features. During her rape, Alice made herself look at her attacker’s face, and he forced her to kiss him several times. She got a good look at his face and physique. However, when her attacker and his friend were in the lineup, the friend looked forward at the glass. The rapist, in contrast, looked down and not at her so that he seemed less threatening. As a result, Sebold marked down the wrong person and failed to air her doubts about her selection. Later in trial, she explains that the forward-looking suspect felt intimidating to her and that is why she chose him.

The other thing I learned is that the defendent can request a closed court. That means that neither the accused nor the accuser can have any person of their choosing in the court during trial. This, to me, also seems to be unfair to the prosecution. In certain cases, like this one, allowing only the accused to choose whether to have an open or closed court means that they can use it as a weapon against their traumatized victims. I do not think I would be able to handle myself as well as Alice Sebold did in a situation where I had to go face to face with a rapist who physically and sexually assaulted me in a number of ways with no one in the room to support me. I completely understand why so many women don’t want to deal with what Alice Sebold went through, why so many women back out of prosecution, and why so many rapists end up walking free.

I am terrified at the thought.

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