Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Michelle Remembers, or does she?

When I was working as a cashier at a small grocery store in college, we had a tiny book section and "Michelle Remembers" was one of the paperbacks always for sale there.

I was fascinated with it, and when business was slow or I was shopping for myself I would often flip through it. It was one of the first of those "I am suddenly remembering that I was horribly, freakishly, SATANICALLY abused as a child, and let me describe the horrors for you in slow, excruciating, savory detail."

Now I feel pretty appalled that I ever touched the book, but when you're a suburban kid whose life is pretty good, there's some forbidden fruit aspect to reading about lives that seem like yours at first but then take a nosedive straight into the pits of hell. My niece, who has just about the perfect teen life, was fascinated with the abuse memoirs of Dave Pelzer.

Anyway, these days, the accuracy of both "Michelle Remembers" and Dave Pelzer have been questioned, and it seems clear that "Michelle Remembers" was used to whip on some of the satanic ritual-abuse frenzy of the 1980s. I feel pretty disturbed that I ever picked it up, actually.


K. said...

I think you're right about the connection between white, suburban, safe adolescence, and fascination with books of this sort. In health class, my sophomore year of high school, my teacher gave us a reading list for book reports. I'd say 90% of the class chose abuse memoirs. They just used to FASCINATE me. Now I'm horrified by the thought of it, of course, but it seemed like the most fascinating topic in the world back then. I think we also KNEW we weren't supposed to be interested in them, so it had that forbidden fruit quality- we knew our interest in the books was unseemly, and that we probably shouldnt' be reading them, but at the same time, it was a completely safe act of rebellion- who was going to punish us for reading?

Anonymous said...

I'm not fussed whether Michelle Remembers is true or not, but her account hasn't been contested to the extent that many people claim.

There was an article in a British newspaper in 1990 with quotes from her father and sisters that deny her story, but that neither supports nor undermines her claims. If her story is true, then her family would naturally take this stance.

And, again, if her story is true, then her decision to excise her sisters from the book strikes me as an ethical one. She may have chosen not to recount their abuse on the basis that their abuse is not her story to tell.

I'm not saying that we should take a default position that Michelle Remembers is true, only that the evidence put forward against it has not refuted it.

Kodijack said...

I agree that there was a lot of attraction to abuse stories when I was a privilged, suburban white school attending middle schooler. I remember a particular book about Eskimos that had two pages with a rape scene. I remember very little else about the book.

Anonymous said...

I think I read this book as a teenager -- I read several and may have mixed them up. I remember a scene where a girl was closed up inside a sarcophagus with a bunch of dead babies. That's when I figured out it pretty much had to be crap.

anna said...

I felt exactly the same way about Go Ask Alice.


Anonymous said...

"I remember a scene where a girl was closed up inside a sarcophagus with a bunch of dead babies. That's when I figured out it pretty much had to be crap."

Dunno if that's Michelle Remembers or not. Problem is that a small minority of abuse survivors do carry memories like this, and they aren't all "hypnotised therapy patients with false memories".

If you are a counsellor or social worker (or even just a friend), how should you treat someone who has memories like this - someone who is not psychotic, is not delusional, someone who is just very traumatised and very scared?

It's one thing to put down a book and decide that the author has made it all up. But it's another to hear these things with your own ears - from a child in care, or from a disabled woman who can't read, or from someone who has had no therapy.

How do you "explain" away the memories of people who are more terrified by what they remember then you are?