The Incest Diary by Anonymous

— Nicholas Nichols

Warning: This book depicts sexual violence in detail.

My mother had art books in the bookcase in the living room. 1 I spent a lot of time looking through them. 2 In Jacques-Louis David’s The Death of Marat, Marat was killed in the bath. I was almost killed in he bath but I wasn’t. 3 I could look at his murdered body in the bath and still be alive. 4

1. The Incest Diary is an anonymous memoir about the author’s prolonged sexual abuse at the hands of her father from the ages of 3 to 21. The narrator isn’t coy, they are deliberate. To take any sentence for granted would be an oversight, a missed opportunity with a crash course on the relationship between time and trauma. One doesn’t just relive trauma, they experience it everyday, parsing between the past and the present because they occur simultaneously. There is no easy way to write this review. There is no easy way to heal from this type of abuse because our culture doesn’t allow it.

2. Reading The Incest Diary on a crowded train during rush hour will attract some attention. There were moments I considered removing the dust jacket, saving myself from judgmental eyes. Am I reading a book about incest, yes. Are 1 out 6 women in America victims of sexual assault, yes. The publishing world has seen its fair share of sham memoirs and elaborate hoaxes. Yes, authenticity is important, but so is visibility. How many contemporary texts deal with the topic of rape, but also incest? What can be said when someone’s story is overlooked due to it revealing an uncomfortable truth?

3. The writing is urgent and carefully woven together. The end of one page demands the beginning of another. Anecdotes add texture to the moments of the narrator’s life and they left my heart heavy. This book is a challenge. The narrator positions themself in the middle of their grief. They argue that time is not a linear device, but instead cyclical. If all facts—including time—can be distinguished one moment from the next: why am I still in pain? The common denominator is you—the individual—the person who holds the past and present inside themselves wherever they go. All it takes is a moment, The feelings are stuck in my body and my body remembers everything…A smell, a sound. A burst of fear. Sometimes they make me feel frozen and paralyzed and I forgot who and where I am. The Incest Diary is a challenging read, I will not argue that, but it’s a necessary one nonetheless. Their voice rings out loud, and it’s searing and earnest. Neither does craft take a back seat in this journey, it is the cornerstone by which this account was made possible. The pages are filled with sudden shifts in time and place because trauma makes us refugees in our own bodies.

4. What intrigues me most about the section quoted is the juxtaposition with The Death of Marat. Both subjects of our gaze have been brutalized by life’s affliction, yet—when presented here—both are beautiful in their reconstruction. An unwavering view of the subject is what adds to its importance. The letter that Marat holds can be translated as My great unhappiness gives me a right to your kindness. Is this, in some way, a demand or plea from the author to listen? Of course, all this time spent on speculation can be better used listening, or in this case reading.

Bloomsbury Publishing