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My Dark Vanessa: A Novel

My Dark Vanessa: A Novel

Written by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Narrated by Grace Gummer


My Dark Vanessa: A Novel

Written by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Narrated by Grace Gummer

ratings:
4.5/5 (760 ratings)
Length:
16 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Mar 10, 2020
ISBN:
9780062941534
Format:
Audiobook

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Also available as bookBook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook

Description

Exploring the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher, a brilliant, all-consuming read that marks the explosive debut of an extraordinary new writer.

2000. 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.

2017. 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 mores transforming our relationships and society itself.

Includes a bonus conversation with Kate Elizabeth Russell, Grace Gummer, and Jessica Williams (editor of My Dark Vanessa).

Publisher:
Released:
Mar 10, 2020
ISBN:
9780062941534
Format:
Audiobook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook

About the author

Kate Elizabeth Russell is originally from eastern Maine. She holds a PhD in creative writing from the University of Kansas and an MFA from Indiana University. My Dark Vanessa is her first novel.



Reviews

What people think about My Dark Vanessa

4.3
760 ratings / 47 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (5/5)
    I was actually one of the people reading the author's LiveJournal, many moons ago, when we were both quite young and she was still in the process of writing this story. So pleased and proud to see that she's gotten it published!

    And what a great novel this is. Gorgeous, brutal, horrifying, heart-rending. Plot and setting and tone aside, this is a masterclass on writing a main character who is not sweet or pleasant but is still endlessly sympathetic and loveable. She's someone you want to understand, to protect, to grab by the shoulders and shake. So good. I really have no better words than that.
  • (5/5)
    Beautiful writing and detailed characters. Explores a gripping, nuanced subject without being pedantic.
  • (4/5)
    Gritty, compulsive, and thought-provoking. Created a sense of urgency when reading, as if I discovered something dangerous and critical. Captivating prose, albeit squeamish content.
  • (4/5)
    All too often the amount of buzz about an upcoming release the greater the risk that it fails to live up to the hype surrounding it, despite a fleeting boost in sales and generated excitement. Occasionally, a book that is widely anticipated and publicized proves to be deserving of all the acclaim it has received. My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell, with its skillful portrayal of an important but seldomly heard voice, is firmly in this category. Russell creates a character that is fully developed and heart-wrenchingly real, all while delivering a story that addresses the zeitgeist of the #MeToo movement from a perspective that invites a deeper contemplation of the issues. Vanessa is a young woman who is being pressured to testify about an “affair” she had with a teacher 17 years prior. A woman is accusing the teacher of inappropriate and sexually abusive behavior and wants Vanessa to join her in providing evidence against him. Vanessa, however, believes that what she experienced was genuinely consensual and she seeks to assert her autonomy by taking some of the blame on herself. The book vacillates between past and current events, beginning with a shy and naïve Vanessa at fifteen as she enters her Sophomore year at boarding school. These flashbacks reveal a girl who at that time is mourning the loss of a close friendship and is insecure and plaintively seeking validation. The character of Stroud is wonderfully written as more than just a predatory monster who takes advantage of weak girls. He is subtle in his approach, manipulating her into thinking she is the instigator of his indomitable attraction for this “one-time” lapse on his part. Vanessa remembers how she willingly exchanged her innocence for the attention and praise Stroud lavished upon her—bolstering her self-worth and making her feel respected and loved. As the recollections move forward in time, she realizes that their relationship was predicated by a skewed power dynamic and her obsession with this older man continues to influence her current decisions and relationships. As an adult who is not living up to her potential and copes by self-destructive acts, Vanessa’s long-term damage is extensive despite her denial. Vanessa grapples with the fact that she still feels compelled to protect Stroud and grateful for his role in her life. She rejects the label of “victim” and all the powerlessness that the word implies. The novel does not shy away from graphically describing Vanessa’s thoughts as she is alternatively aroused and repelled by her abuser. It raises questions about consent—its amorphic forms and maturity requirements, especially in the current age of early onset of sexual activity. Russell does not succumb to the customary waves of anger and need for retribution but chooses to instead examine the costs to victims when they submit themselves to scrutiny even when they are unprepared to do so. This pressure to come forward reflects how much evidence is required for victims to be believed and for justice to be (rarely) served. The Stroud character is depicted as man who experiences true regret and sadness but acts in cold self-preservation when cornered. Like Humbert Humbert in Nabokov’s Lolita (a book alluded to throughout the story), Strane evokes sympathy as well as contempt. The true villains of the book are the other adults: Vanessa’s parents and teachers who fail to see what is happening and then refuse to protect her when all is exposed. Also implicated are the people who are so consumed with gaining retribution that invoking punishment becomes more important than compassion. My Dark Vanessa is timely and thought-provoking, a stand-out among the flood of books already dedicated to these issues. Vivid and unforgettable, Vanessa’s story is one that will be unfortunately too familiar to many. For them, this book may either act as a trigger to be avoided or as a solace to see it expressed so well. Thanks to the author and William Morrow for an advance copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.
  • (5/5)
    Amazing writing and amazing narration. Should be a recommended reading for all educators and child psychologists
  • (4/5)
    The narrator was great. This is a tough read with difficult subject matter. I enjoyed it. A story that makes one think.