Meredith Maran has written an important book primarily dealing with the mass hysteria that occurred in this country between the mid 1980's when the McMartin pre-school trial dominated America's attention and 1993, when Lawrence Wright published his startling and nationally therapeutic essay, "Remembering Satan" in The New Yorker, (later published as a book of the same title: http://www.amazon.com/Remembering-Satan-Tragic-Recovered-Memory/dp/...
). Memory expert Elizabeth Loftus calls The "recovered memory" movement "the major mental health scandal of the twentieth century," no small distinction, since the century was rife with mental health scandals including widespread use of lobotomies, the overuse of electroshock therapy, the warehousing then releasing to the streets tens of thousands of mentally ill patients during the Reagan era, the atrocious conditions in many county mental health facilities, and many many more. And, as both Loftus and Maran point out, the fallout from this period is far from over.
What makes Maran's book especially important is indicated by the title. She was one of the many thousands of women who "recovered" memories that their fathers (or grandfathers or uncles, or brothers, or stepparents) forced her (them) to have sex with him. In "My Lie," she (mostly) repudiates that accusation and sets about to discover how it could have happened. She (once again I need to say "mostly") succeeds. Maran writes lucidly and the story she has to tell is riveting, but it remains unclear to me how a woman of her intelligence could so succumb to the groupthink that characterized the irrationality of the time. Even in the very last chapter (before an epilogue) when she finally gets up the courage to apologize to her father, she seems to retain doubts. When he tells her that he called her mother to ask her if there could possibly be any truth to what she accused him of, she lets us into to her inner response: "Oh my God. If he's not sure he didn't do it, how can I be sure." This strikes me as hedging her bets a bit.
Once a person makes an accusation of this magnitude, it shatters the lives of many people who actually love that person. Maran's stepmother Gloria thought seriously about divorcing her father because living with a pedophile was unthinkable to her. I think we will see more books of this kind, but I hope that some of those books go a bit further in accepting the responsibility for what happened and being more straightforward and consistent with their apologies. Here there sometimes seems to be more of a concern for protecting some feminist pieties than laying the truth bare.
The book that spurred many of these individuals (mostly women) to make these accusations is called "The Courage to Heal," (recently published its 20th anniversary edition: http://www.amazon.com/Courage-Heal-4e-Survivors-Anniversary/dp/0061...
) and while many of its pop-psych superficial generalities have been widely discredited, it continues to mislead. Yet, 110 of 151 customers who reviewed it gave it five stars. I'm sure this book has helped some women find the courage to get on with their lives after having been abused, but it has also wrecked havoc in the lives of others and turned family members into warring adversaries. Maran also tells the story of the founding and development of the False Memory Syndrome association, and especially about the huge therapy industry that developed around the idea of "helping" "victims" to "recover" "repressed" "memories." All those words need quotation marks because in many cases none of them reflect their actual meanings. The corruption of the therapeutic profession in this period is chronicled in great detail
and although Maran cites McHugh and draws from his work, she seems particularly suggestible when she describes her own therapeutic sessions, and practically begs her therapists to provide answers to her problems.
Let me be clear: there is no question that child abuse and incest are very serious problems in this country, and throughout the world. But there is absolutely no hard evidence that people who have been raped, abused, or molested as children repress these memories and are able to recover them much later on. This is why we certainly need to be open to accusations of victims, but not accept them uncritically and think a lot more than twice before equating an accusation with an actuality.
Here's Elizabeth Loftus, our leading expert on how memory functions: "When I wrote my first article on repressed memories in 1993...I was still thinking maybe there was such a thing. But it struck me as strange that most traumas produce precisely the opposite problem--intrusive memories...Now I'm totally convinced. There's no scientific evidence for the theory of repression."
One more proviso: this book could sorely use an index. Because Maran quotes liberally from sources other than her own experience, there are many very useful passages in the book that readers will want to know more about. But with neither index nor bibliography, these are hard to access.