Book Review: The Other Side
Memoir by Houston writer Lacy Johnson recounts a personal trauma with honesty and haunting beauty
Reviewed by Jessi Cape, Fri., July 25, 2014
The Other Side: A Memoirby Lacy M. Johnson
Tin House Books, 232pp., $15.95 (paper)
In media reports of violence against women, statistics often replace stories. Houstonian Lacy M. Johnson disrupts this hushed status quo by telling her truth – a brutal one, to be sure – in a manner so poetic, so gripping, that the reparation, though slow-going and painful, becomes the focal point. Both graceful and contemplative, her book defies the all-too-common dismissive and reductive labels ("confessionalist"; "oversharer") and embodies hard-earned strength ... and an exquisite talent for storytelling. For those unaware, and those too aware, this brutally honest recounting of personal trauma is a window into a life forever changed – much like the book's artistic design, with frayed edges bound.
After years of abuse, Lacy is kidnapped, chained as a prisoner in a room specifically designed to muffle her screams, and raped, all at the hands of a former lover. She escapes, but only physically at first. The story is told in fractured spurts, with memories revealed as lingering wounds heal, and every chapter offers a deeper understanding of Lacy as a person – on both sides of the wall built by pain and fear. Each character is anonymous – protected that way – save for the author herself. The struggles and triumphs of her relationships before and after "what happened" are fascinating. The intentional fog cast over her attacker's story also, perhaps, serves to shift an ingrained societal obsession with the perpetrator to the ebb and flow of a victim's world: disrupted but bravely continued.
The Other Side is neither flowery nor stale, never shy or gratuitous. Instead, its haunting beauty grips the reader from the opening line. Also of note, this is not a book whose readership can be defined by gender or role or experience. A wide audience will relate to Johnson's talk of tattoos and pharmaceuticals, overlooked aspects of motherhood (moms are also humans with backstories), and creative spirits in a harsh world. The Other Side is unforgettable.
Lacy Johnson will speak about and sign The Other Side Tuesday, July 29, 7pm, at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar. For more information, visit www.bookpeople.com.