Culture

My Father, My Rapist: 'The Incest Diary' Book By Anonymous Is Disturbing Yet Necessary

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07/21/17
In the Magazine
The Incest Diary tells a disturbing tale about the complexity of the abuse suffered by a daughter at the hands of her father. Janeycakes Photos/Getty

The author of The Incest Diary describes how she was first raped by her father when she was a toddler—raped by a man who claimed his 3-year-old daughter wanted it. She calls herself “Anonymous,” this woman who writes in a trance-like fever of testimony, in a book meant to be hurled across the room and then urged on others for its dirty, shocking content.

She describes how her father continued the sexual abuse of his daughter until she was 21. “He said he couldn’t help it,” she declares in the affectless voice of a trauma survivor. “He told me it was my fault. It must have been my fault. He said that he couldn’t help it because I was so beautiful and it felt so good. He said he was a sick man. A weak victim of his desire. And I, too, felt desire; I felt my wildness.”

A reader would not be convicted by a jury of her peers for wanting this man dead. No, not dead: tortured, at length, in prison. The reader keeps reading, disgusted when, at times, she is involuntarily turned on.

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He tied her up, she reports. He cut her vagina, he tried to strangle her. The author describes how she hated it—and how she liked it, because by then her circuits of sexual desire and arousal were caught up in his, and so were her pathways of self-loathing. Does the reader need to read this? No. But the reader keeps reading. “From the time I was very young, my father told me that we were one person, that I was just a part of him. I grew up with that inside me. I grew up with him inside me.”

The author describes how sometimes she told people of her father’s predations and how mostly she hid the truth, and she describes how people refused or couldn’t bear to believe her. The worst of these, she says, was her mother, who called her a whore. There is a younger brother to whom the anonymous author refers frequently, once a boy and now a man with a wife and family of his own, a brother who was also injured by what he saw as a child when he was unable help his sister. Yet, the sister reports, as an adult he could not bear to acknowledge the truth without considering suicide. “My brother and I don’t talk about the one time we did talk about all that happened. My brother needed it to be untrue. He still needs all of it to be untrue.”

The reader can’t help thinking, This book may kill him.

07_21_IncestDiary_01 The Incest Diary. Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The author describes how the legacy of her father’s exploitation has shaped her unstable relationships with all other men, and she describes a lover, in present tense, who thrills her, she thinks, because his violence reminds her of the man who created her. In the past, she was married to a kind husband for 12 years, and kindness was one thing she could not bear. “My father is my secret. That he raped me is my secret. But the secret under the secret is that sometimes I liked it. Sometimes I wanted it, and sometimes I seduced him.”

The reader stops reading, walks around the room. This is a radioactive little book. Why was it published? Certainly an anonymous, real woman has a right to have her story known. But still, something troubles this reader about the brutal sensationalism, discreetly packaged in a quietly designed product (almost the brown paper bag that men used to wrap around porn) from esteemed publishing house Farrar, Straus and Giroux. FSG! The literary home of Flannery O’Connor, T.S. Eliot and Jonathan Franzen.

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An accompanying press release explains that the editors believe The Incest Diary to be a “work of art” that may ring true for other survivors of similar abuse. It is, by that measure, a highly marketable addition to the lucrative business of healing-and-recovery memoirs. And it carries the extra publicity oomph of being something a reader may want to hurl across the room, then pass on to others for the dirt and shock of the experience.

The reader wonders, If a man anonymously wrote a pornographic diary about his long sexual relationship with his mother, would FSG still be up for the deal?

The Incest Diary does its work. The anonymous author is a strong writer, and she lays down a kind of dare with the furious brio of her prose: Whatever the reader feels is, after all, just a fraction of what this woman has allegedly gone through, and now she is permanently mangled by the man she once trusted most in the world. Believe her and feel very, very bad. Question this book and feel very, very bad too.

'The Incest Diary' by Anonymous is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux ($18)

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