Putney by Sofka Zinovieff Blog Tour for Harper Books
"You remember how Hansel and Gretel ends?" Her voice was calm and sly.
"Uh, yes. They kill the witch and escape back home?"
"Exactly. It's Gretel, the little girl, who outwits the witch and shoves here into the oven, saves her fattened-up brother from the cage, and finds a way out of the dark forest. It's never too late to kill the witch, Daphne. Think about it. There's a natural balance in getting justice, even if it's much later. The witch should't get away with it. I know you think your case is unique, but you can bet there were other children tempted by the candies...."
I felt every single emotion under the sun as I read Sofka Zinovieff's brilliant book, Putney and it easily secures a spot on my list of top reads of 2018. Please mind your triggers on this one so before you read any further, if grooming and sexual assault are triggers for you in any way, then I would proceed with great caution with this review and this book. Never before have I experienced a novel that so powerfully addressed the manipulation of adults over children, or that provided such an eye opening look at the many forms that complicity can take. Told in alternating view points from the perspectives of the perpetrator, the victim, and the witness, Zinovieff delves deeply in to the issues of consent and grooming, and provided a reading experience for me like no other.
I was totally repulsed when reading Ralph's chapters and I am grateful to the author for keeping the sexual portions of the book brief and not gratuitous in any way. The first time Ralph sees Daphne he is 27 and she is 9. He immediately begins grooming her for what will turn out to be an almost decade long affair. When Daphne turns 13, their physical relationship begins and to my shock and horror, the adults in Daphne's life are not at all concerned that this older man has taken such an unusual interest in their child. It isn't until years later, when her friend Jane pushes Daphne about the things that Jane saw occur between she and Ralph that Daphne slowly comes to the realization that what happened to her was not love and it was not ok.
"The girls were all done up... and then I saw the peculiar disconnect that happens when young girls play with sexiness. I do realize it's normal - what they all do- what we all did. But it's like a game, like practicing before the real thing. And I thought about me at eleven or twelve and about Ralph. And sleeping with him when I was only thirteen. And it was like being punched in the stomach. I mean Libby's going to be thirteen soon.... It was such a strange sort of shock - the sort you've known about all along but haven't understood. I thought that if an older man did to Libby what Ralph did to me, I'd"....Daphne stopped and then said very simply, "I'd kill him." Daphne wrestles with the justifications she has told herself for so long and the roller coaster of emotions she experiences over what happened to her left me holding my breath... waiting for Daphne to grasp the severity of the situation and do something. ACT. SPEAK OUT. I found myself silently urging her along as she worked through their relationship and begin to see it for what it truly was.
Zinovieff's ability to convey how terrifying it is for Daphne to come forward after all this time - to speak what she has endured out loud, to call it by it's name and stand before her parents, her community and her perpetrator and say " I was abused. You did this to me, and you and you and you knew about it and no one did anything to help me or to stop it" is an incredibly powerful thing to read. It is a monumental moment in the book and the entire time I was reading I kept thinking about all of the women who have been touched by the Me Too movement, who have bravely stepped forward and spoken out about the horrible things that have been done to them at the hands of adults that they trusted. I could not turn the pages fast enough, so powerful was Daphne's story.
This book will not be for everyone and that is certainly understandable. I feel like it is an important catalyst for hard and necessary conversations and that it will be something that readers return to time and again for a myriad of reasons. I have never read anything like this, and I can assure you, you haven't either. Thank you Sofka for telling this story, for taking me on such an explosive and visceral journey and for writing a book that will no doubt inspire others to come forward and know that they do not need to be ashamed. I am humbled to be included on the blog tour for this significant and provocative work. Thank you so much to Harper Books and to Jen for allowing me to take part.