True Story by Kate Reed Petty (NetGalley Review)

3/5 stars

Truth is a tricky thing, as True Story, the debut novel by Kate Reed Petty reveals–focusing on sexual violence and the long shadow of trauma.

A lot of books have done this quite well this year–My Dark Vanessa and Grown are two standouts. True Story is not one of them.

We open with Nick, a self-conscious high school lacrosse player who finds himself at the cross-section of scandal when a teammate is accused of sexual assault at an alcohol-soaked party, and the unnamed victim attempts suicide. Through the years, we follow the victim, Alice, and the periphery of the incident to find out what did or didn’t happen. Alice and her attacker develop an unexpected connection later in life, while Nick continues to process what happened that night all those years ago.

Alice is quite a compelling character, especially in the chapters after her assault when she uses horror films to understand her own trauma. Unfortunately, the narrative becomes a bit too obsessed with truth and lies–especially doubting the sexual assault itself. The choice to make the involved parties lacrosse players was definitely deliberate, for anyone familiar with the Duke Lacrosse case. And cases like that don’t exist in a bubble–and the racialised elements of the case have turned it into a rallying cry for the far-right. I just don’t think it’s responsible to make references like that and expect it to go unnoticed.

Petty is a capable writer, and the book definitely kept me engaged–but the descriptions of Alice’s trauma (which continues into adult life, featuring an abusive relationship and some extremely gruesome scenes of animal abuse) just felt like they were being used gratuitously. Sexual assault is a difficult topic to write about, and Petty seemed determined to write about men trapped in false accusations of assault–an incident so rare but so fixated on by anti-feminist campaigners who want to undermine the important work of the #MeToo movement and divert attention to the statistically scant false allegations.

I wanted to like this book–but I can’t properly stand by a book handling sexual assault this irresponsibly.

Thank you to NetGalley and Quercus Books for the review copy.

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