Wednesday, 29 June 2022

Our Little Secret by Emily Carrington Review

Emily Carrington recounts being raped at the age of 15 by an acquaintance of her father’s, who was 40 years old, in her memoir Our Little Secret. She goes into the circumstances leading up to the incident on Prince Edward Island, Canada, (she had horrible parents and went to live with her father when they divorced), and its lasting impact on her life, as well as her lengthy journey in trying to seek justice, after she spotted the abuser 27 years later in 2010, by taking her case to the courts.

It’s unquestionably a powerful and disturbing story but accessible because Carrington is such a skilful cartoonist who draws beautifully and tells her story well, with a great deal of (figurative - the comic is in black and white) colour and thought. Where it falls down for me is its length and where the story goes - literally half the book covers the protracted legal proceedings she tries to bring to her abuser, Richard, which is both tedious and oddly self-destructive.

Here’s where my criticism might be misunderstood: I’m not saying abuse victims should shut up and let their abusers get away with it. But considering what taking legal recourse does to Carrington’s state of mind - the years of stress and anxiety it gives her, not to mention the untold amounts she spends on legal fees - makes it seem like she’s the one who’s now adding to the years of pain she’s already endured holding on to these experiences.

Then there are the dubious outcomes of (an increasingly unlikely) conviction: a monetary settlement, but then he’s poor like her, so how much does she expect to get and would that be worth all of this; warning others about him (which she’s done more effectively by creating this book about him); being a deterrent to other potential molesters (which seems naive - I think unfortunately scumbags like Richard are gonna scum, no matter what. Like the Catholic Church, Epstein and his clientele, etc.).

I feel like in her case, she’d be better off letting it all go because she’d not have to go through any more years of stress or financial hardship, and give herself a better chance at recovery/happiness. Isn’t the ultimate revenge having a life well lived? By letting her experiences consume her present life, she’s ensuring she’ll always exist within this painful victim bubble and never leave it behind.

In fact, she’s done the best possible thing, which is create this comic which accomplishes at least one of her goals of warning others about this man, and informs people how to spot abusers and what to do about them.

The first half of the book is very compelling though. As much as she blames Richard for her years of misery, I feel like she’s letting her insane father off too lightly - it’s because he was such a shitty, negligent father that this happened to her. And her mother is such a horrorshow. It’s no wonder Carrington has had years of therapy to try to undo the trauma of her childhood.

It’s also very insightful into the mind of abuse victims - how the abuse makes them feel, and their tragically warped reasoning that leads to the abuse happening over and over. The book is wonderfully drawn, showcasing Canada’s natural charm and conversely depicting Richard as the grotesque he is - having his speech bubbles drool out of his mouth like haunted spittle is an effective choice in making him creepier to the reader.

Even though I wasn’t that taken with the second half, it’s still brave of Carrington to pursue Richard legally as tenaciously as she has and I hope one day she finds the peace she deserves. I found it to be an uneven narrative, parts of which were riveting and others that were quite dull, but Our Little Secret is overall a decent comic about a difficult subject by a clearly talented cartoonist.

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