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My Dark Vanessa Exploring The Psychological Dynamics Of The Relationship Between A Precocious Yet Na Ve Teenage Girl And Her Magnetic And Manipulative Teacher, A Brilliant, All Consuming Read That Marks The Explosive Debut Of An Extraordinary New Writer Bright, Ambitious, And Yearning For Adulthood, Fifteen Year Old Vanessa Wye Becomes Entangled In An Affair With Jacob Strane, Her Magnetic And Guileful Forty Two Year Old English Teacher Amid The Rising Wave Of Allegations Against Powerful Men, A Reckoning Is Coming Due Strane Has Been Accused Of Sexual Abuse By A Former Student, Who Reaches Out To Vanessa, And Now Vanessa Suddenly Finds Herself Facing An Impossible Choice Remain Silent, Firm In The Belief That Her Teenage Self Willingly Engaged In This Relationship, Or Redefine Herself And The Events Of Her Past But How Can Vanessa Reject Her First Love, The Man Who Fundamentally Transformed Her And Has Been A Persistent Presence In Her Life Is It Possible That The Man She Loved As A Teenager And Who Professed To Worship Only Her May Be Far Different From What She Has Always Believed Alternating Between Vanessa S Present And Her Past, My Dark Vanessa Juxtaposes Memory And Trauma With The Breathless Excitement Of A Teenage Girl Discovering The Power Her Own Body Can Wield Thought Provoking And Impossible To Put Down, This Is A Masterful Portrayal Of Troubled Adolescence And Its Repercussions That Raises Vital Questions About Agency, Consent, Complicity, And Victimhood Written With The Haunting Intimacy Of The Girls And The Creeping Intensity Of Room, My Dark Vanessa Is An Era Defining Novel That Brilliantly Captures And Reflects The Shifting Cultural S Transforming Our Relationships And Society Itself A tense and intense novel While this is about the sexual abuse of a fifteen year old student by her forty ish teacher, it s also about agency, victimization and complicity The dark Vanessa of the title is groomed, made to feel special, and mistakes abuse for love Yet, she was in love with a creepy, manipulative pedophile Vanessa tells her story by moving back and forth between being fifteen years old, through portions of her twenties and into her thirties When her abuser is outted she is forced to grapple with her complex emotions about the relationship and the damage that was done to her The material is dark, disturbing, literary, and sophisticated It certainly doesn t read like a debut and will most certainly be a bestseller. Come and be worshipped, come and be caressed My Dark Vanessa, crimson barred, my blest My Admirable butterfly Explain How could you, in the gloam of Lilac Lane,Have let uncouth, hysterical John ShadeBlubber your face, and ear, and shoulder bladeFrom the poem Pale Fire by NabakovVanessa Wye is thirty two years old, working a dead end hotel job in Portland, Maine, and attending grief counseling therapy following the death of her father She cannot move on with her life I suppose many of us have faced similar straits, the relationship that keeps its claws embedded long after the real connection has gone What s different is that Vanessa s big romance began when she was a fifteen year old at a prep school, and it was with a forty something English teacher Recently contacted by a young woman who is reviving her charges of misconduct against the same teacher, wanting Vanessa to talk about what had happened to her, Vanessa s recollections of her experience come to the fore, helped along in her therapy.Kate Elizabeth Russell image from Split Lip MagazineWe all think, or at least hope, that we are special, and are naturally drawn to people who appear to recognize our particular specialness But even with that, this looks like an easy call, an adult taking advantage of a child in his charge End of story But that is not the story Kate Elizabeth Russell is telling Based on her personal experiences as a teen in relationships with older men, Russell asks where victimhood ends and agency begins She wonders about the arbitrariness of age specifications for statutory rape definitions Do all girls, do all people, mature at the same rate Is it not possible for there to be a fifteen year old with the capacity to decide for herself when to become sexually active and with whom We get Vanessa s first person telling, and her take on Jacob Strane, forty five when he meets her at The Browick School, in Norumbega, Maine, in 2000 It wasn t about how young I was, not for him Above everything else, he loved my mind He said I had a genius level emotional intelligence and that I wrote like a prodigy, that he could talk to me, confide in me Lurking deep within me, he said, was a dark romanticism, the same kind he saw within himself No one had understood that dark part of him until I came along If you are rolling your eyes and muttering puh leez, you are not alone If it sounds to you like a pervy pedophile has gotten inside an unprepared kid s head, well, I m right there with you The question is not whether Strane is a manipulative, predatory creep He clearly is But there may be to him At least through Vanessa s eyes One can argue that an older man may be an appropriate partner for Vanessa as long as it is her choice Our society has clearly taken the position that a fifteen year old is not mature enough to make that choice the age of consent in all 50 US states is 16 or higher But are there any circumstances under which it is ok for Strane to be using his classroom as a recruiting venue for young stuff Even setting aside the institutional power imbalance, are there any circumstance in which it is ok for a 45M to be seeing a 15F This is the tension in the novel Victimization versus agency Pawn versus power Where should those lines be drawn and who gets a say in their location The story moves back and forth between Vanessa s past and present, noting her growing interest in this man and his methodology for seducing her He uses an array of authors, summoning Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Edna St Vincent Milay, Jonathan Swift, Robert Frost, and from our literary pantheon, to both enlighten his student and soften up his target Of course Lolita is a part of this I carry his books with me, reading them whenever I can, every spare few minutes and through every meal I start to realize the point isn t really whether I like the books or not it s about him giving me different lenses to see myself through The poems are clues to help me understand why he s so interested, what it is exactly that he sees in me It also moves back and forth between showing Strane s clear manipulation of Vanessa, and a realization that in her newfound sexuality she has a say I have power Power to make it happen Power over him I was an idiot for not realizing this sooner There are many literary references sprinkled throughout the book, noting some obvious and not so obvious writing of a sexual nature Strane also uses his English class lectures to point out elements of his relationship with Vanessa in a way that is obvious to her but opaque to the rest of the class A class discussion of blame in Ethan Frome, for example, is clearly intended for his special student.Vanessa sees a definite benefit in dating older men and approaches this clear eyed I wasn t pretty, I d have to wait a long time before anyone noticed me because boys had to mature before they cared about anything else In the meantime, apparently my only option was to wait Like girls sitting in the bleachers at basketball games watching boys play, or girls sitting on the couch watching boys play video games Endless waiting It s funny to think how wrong Mom was about all that Because there s another option for those brave enough to take it bypass boys altogether, go straight to men Men will never make you wait, men who are starved and grateful for scraps of attention, who fall in love so hard they throw themselves at your feet But there is one element here that adds some depth to Vanessa s situation V s freshman year roomie was one Jenny Murphy They had become very close, until Jenny got a boyfriend and became unavailable I wonder how it s possible that I once felt so much for her, yearned to be closer even as I slept beside her in the same small room, our bodies three feet apart I think of her navy blue bathrobe hanging on the back of the door, the little boxes of raisins wrapped in cellophane that sat on the shelf above her desk, how she smeared lilac scented lotion on her legs at night, the wet spots on her t shirt from her freshly washed hair Sometimes she binged on microwave pizzas, the shame pulsing out of her as she ate I had noticed everything about her, every single thing she did, but why What was it about her Uh huh Sounds like V had had than a bit of a crush on J It is not until after they break up, when they are sophos, that the antics with Brane commence Rebound, anyone Russell clearly does not line up directly with the current torrent of sexual predation exposure that has become a daily part of our news feed The book has evolved gradually, of course, but took on a whole new meaning as the MeToo movement gained steam last year It forced Russell to not only reevaluate her characters journeys an accusation plot line had been moved to the center but also her own experiences I remember a point where I was scrolling through Twitter, seeing friends and strangers putting these stories of violence and abuse out in the world, harrowing, horrible things, and all we could do for each other was reply with heart emojis, she says In a way, it just seemed to highlight our powerlessness As the movement evolved, the way all this trauma was churned through the Internet Content Machine started to feel perverse She continues I ended up feeling rather alienated from MeToo as a whole despite it being directly connected to my novel, my life s work and I used that sense of alienation to fine tune Vanessa s character and shape the novel s central conflict from the EW interviewV is excited as a teen, but has clearly been damaged by the relationship, as her inability to move on with her life attests Is the narration of any fifteen year old reliable Does the appeal of the new and exciting through young eyes disguise a tawdry case of sexual abuse Is the teenager s feeling of power anything than a self delusional justification for having gotten into something she really cannot handle, an excuse for the powerlessness she ultimately experiences Was her relationship with Strane one of equals, ultimately Even after there is a break in their connection, it is Vanessa who keeps getting in touch with Strane Is that the behavior of a victim What does the thirty two year old Vanessa see when she looks back Is the older Vanessa a reliable narrator than her younger version Clearly this book is the stuff of book club dreams, as there is so much material that is politically contemporary and personally raw It gently mines the considerable literary lode that deals in April December romance In addition, the book, while keeping the story real and moving, steps back from time to time to note real world implications that tend to slip under the radar On the drive home the car lurches over frost heaves and through potholes, an endless wall of pitch black woods on either side The radio plays hits from the seventies and eighties, Dad tapping the steering wheel along to My Sharona while Mom sleeps, her head leaning against the window Such a dirty mind I always get it up for the touch of the younger kind. I watch his fingers tap to the beat as the chorus comes round again Does he even hear what the song is about, what he s humming along to If you are thinking that My Dark Vanessa constitutes a 21st century Lolita if you are thinking that My Dark Vanessa is an engaging, challenging look at a subject that affects large numbers of women if you are thinking that My Dark Vanessa is a moving story written by a new novelist, but with the literary skill of a veteran if you are thinking that My Dark Vanessa has already earned a place on the list of best books of 2020 and if you are thinking that My Dark Vanessa, pending the release of other outstanding 2020 fiction of course, might just possibly be the best novel of 2020, well you are not alone, because, ya know, me too I never would have done it if you weren t so willing, he d said It sounds like delusion What girl would want what he did to me But it s the truth, whether anyone believes it or not Driven toward it, driven toward him, I was the kind of girl that isn t supposed to exist one eager to hurl herself into the path of a pedophile But no, that word isn t right, never has been It s a cop out, a lie in the way it s wrong to call me a victim and nothing He was never so simple neither was I Review posted June 28, 2019Publication date January 28, 2020 EXTRA STUFFLinks to the author s personal and Twitter pagesInterviews Library Love Fest Editors Unedited Editor Jessica Williams in Conversation with Author Kate Elizabeth Russell audio 32 20 Entertainment Weekly My Dark VanessaWhy this Lolita for the MeToo era is the season s biggest selling debut by David Canfield this one tooItems of Interest Mountains an excerpt from an early version of the novel Split Lip Magazine The Second One in Five Parts short story by KER KER s Twitter handle is a sly Nabakovian referenceReferenced Literature My Sharona you might want to throw things, or wash, after watching this with some new appreciation Left Alone by Fiona Apple ok, the song is not specified in the book, but Fiona Apple is Birches by Robert Frost Just what might this be about Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov public library of India Ditto as a PDF Year 2000Vanessa, 15 years of age, grew up in a quiet small town in Maine on Whalesback Lake She attended Browick High School a boarding schoolcouple hours away from her home Too young to drive her mother usually drove her to school and picked her back up to come home during holiday breaks Early in the book I wondered if Vanessa s mother had serious reasons to worry about her daughter s basic state of well beingor if the mother was just being a typical mom make some friends , yada, yada.As a mother I was sure the mother saw red flag signs that her daughter was hurting inside But mom didn t do anything What could she do Just make friends , mom tells her daughter One morning, Vanessa walked through campus several times trying to calm herself It was early September.Most students noticed the beautiful surroundings the colorful mountains and colorful maple leaves groups of students sat outside together studying laughing socializing Vanessa was feeling restless unsatisfied alone and disconnected from other students.I could feel her anxiety how uncomfortable she felt in her own skin Vanessa couldn t find a place to put herself The library was too dark Her dorm room was too depressing.Every place she walked seemed to be crowded with people studying in groups, highlighting how very alone, Vanessa felt Vanessa forced herself to stop sit down at a grassy slope behind the humanities building to calm herself Breathe she tells herself So with already being on edge, depressed really ,.Vanessa sits down leans against a tree, reaches into her backpack to pull out her spiral notebook to begin working on a poem she s writing..Footsteps were soon approaching.Mr Strane noticed Vanessa from above looking out his window He came to join her Vanessa was reading a poem that she was working on interesting her poem was about a girl strapped on an island.I could feel how critical Vanessa was of her work, her writing, and of herself Self esteem was at an all time low Mr Strane notices Vanessa s red rimmed eyes and says You re Upset Can I ask what s upsetting you Vanessa thinks her problems are too big to explain.Frustrated Vanessa tells Mr Strane that her poem is bad, and that she can t even pick a study spot without exhausting herself.She tries to share how dark she feels Mr Strane is intensely listening Vanessa was seriously fearful that she could never fix herself I wanted her to call her mom Maybe with Mr Strane s help, acknowledgment, extra attention to her Vanessa could begin to feel stronger and confident Maybe Vanessa s fixation on Mr Strane Harvard graduate passionate about literature might be a positive mentor for her Hawe don t fool easy At 15 away from home at a boarding school what stood out to me was how painfully alone and vulnerable Vanessa was I wanted somebody to help her really help her.As the reader we are cringing witnessing the rabbit hole Vanessa is about to fall through As painful as it was to know what was coming a disturbing inappropriate entanglement between a 15 year old impressionable girl and a 42 year old teacher A story as old as ever.I couldn t pull myself away from this book The writing storytelling is seductively addictive and gripping Honestly the best call it what you want MeToo novel I ve ever read I just know this novel gets soooo inside your own skin In another scene, Mr Strane says to Vanessa I think we re very similar, Nessa, he whispers I can tell from the way you write that you re a dark romantic like me You like dark things Shielded by the desk, he reaches down and pats my knee gently, gingerly, the way you might a dog before you re sure it won t turn mean and bite you I don t bite him I don t move I don t even breathe He keeps writing notes on the poem while his other hand strokes my knee and my mind slips out of me Year 2017 Vanessa Wye is 32 years of age She meets Jacob Strane, in a coffee shop It s been five years since the last time she d seen him Seventeen years since she was his student girl thing When Vanessa first sees Strane againyears later..she feels the same way she did when she was 15 and he was 42 attraction Throwing her arms around the much older Strane, when they catch up.he had that same coffee and chalk dust smell he did when she was his student Jacob Strand was accused of sexually abusing a former student It s posted all over Facebook At first Vanessa defends Strane She believes that she willingly engaged in a relationship with him Vanessa believed that she and Mr Strane had a special relationship.They still connected with each other by phone well into her adulthood This book is impossible to put down I gave up the outdoors summer daylight hours in exchange for being an addictive daytime reading couch potato.I felt a pull an urgency an importance to marathon read this book I want to scream to other readers this is sooooooo GOOD a MUST READ which it is ITS REALLY GOOD and WORTHY of being called a BUZZ BOOK.But really good , are not really the right words to describe our feelings about the book s complexities.The novel s achievement is deeply affecting genuinely and significantly emotionally wrenching yet intellectually rigorous Stephen King said, this novel is A well constructed package of dynamite ABSOLUTELY Is the difference between rape and sex a state of mind You can t rape the willing, right Or Kate Elizabeth Russell s writing is engrossingfragilebrittlesharp.and pulsing The characters she creates are so hauntingly real When young girls, or women, love their abuser excuses made for them are outrageous, but they re nothing compared with the excuses made about themselves If this book doesn t have you looking at sexual abusers vs sexual consent in new ways then I ll eat my hat Big thanks to HarperCollinsPublishing for an advance copy of this extraordinary novel released in January, 2020 Powerful powerfulpowerful Out of ashI rise with my red hairAnd I eat men like air from the book Ariel , by Sylvia Plath My Dark Vanessa is a dark, deeply disturbing and unsettling novel that captures the zeitgeist of our contemporary realities of the MeToo movement, looking at the complexities and emotional repercussions of a love affair between a lonely schoolgirl, anxious, suffering the loss of her closest friend, with self esteem issues, desperate for attention, with a much older, manipulative and predatory male who zeroes in on her vulnerabilities This uncomfortable book examines the psychological and sexual anatomy of a relationship between 15 year old Vanessa Wye and her 45 year old English teacher, Jacob Strane, how it all began, and his prophetic words that he will ruin her At 32 years old, Vanessa is seeing a therapist to deal with her grief over the loss of her father, working in a dead end hotel job, and Strane is having to deal with the fallout of a former student, Taylor Birch, having gone public with allegations of abuse He needs to know that he has nothing to worry about from Vanessa She reassures him, despite feeling the pressures of a climate to be honest about male behaviours and attitudes.In a narrative that goes back and forth in time, we see that Vanessa s relationship with Strane is the axiomatic and pivotal one of her life, she has never got over him, he has been her obsession but what is the nature of the ties that bind her to him so irrevocably She is herself not certain of who they were in the past, what exactly happened and what they are now, her memories are confused, fractured and questionable when it comes to reliability She has invested so much of who she is in him and she has to believe it was love, if she begins to question this, her sense of self, her identity, threatens to splinter apart She feels the outside world is too quick to judge, and fails to appreciate that feelings, sex and love cannot be compartmentalised and categorised so rigidly according to society s norms, humanity is far complicated and flawed She has power, control, and desires, she chose Strane, she is no victim, she is the love of his life, special and irreplaceable But what if she hasn t seen him clearly What if she is one of many girls targeted by Strane Strane abuses his position of influence to groom young, naive, susceptible school girls, the nightmare of every parent, using the panoply of literary greats in his arsenal of weapons against the immature young girl, a history of writers who had relationships with young girls A literary chorus all men of precedents, approval and support from history and the arts to legitimise Strane s darker desires for young female flesh and the wider communities complicity in this widespread practice This includes the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, Frost, and Nabokov s Pale Fire, his references to My Dark Vanessa , and Lolita is, of course, central, all adding their weight to the inevitability and righteousness of Vanessa and Strane s unconventional dark romantic relationship, particularly in Vanessa s malleable mind Strane gaslights with no qualms, his rewriting of their personal history, of how Vanessa had control, equal power and green lit every step of their relationship, are critical self serving and self protective strategies This is a challenging read, I had to make myself finish the book, but it is thought provoking in its portrayal of one of the burning issues of our day I have no doubts this is a book that it is going to be huge on publication Highly recommended Many thanks to HarperCollins 4th Estate for an ARC.

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