Sometimes when I’m reading a book that is particularly tough, I’ll give my brain a break by switching to a different book every couple of chapters. This strategy quickly falls apart when one book is Just Mercy and the other is Women Talking, they kind of just egg each other on in the downward emotional spiral.
Just Mercy is Bryan Stevenson’s memoir of the years he has spent as a pro bono death row lawyer in Alabama where they rival Texas in their enthusiasm for state-sponsored murder. I’m a bleeding heart liberal so there’s little here about capital punishment or the prison industrial complex that I didn’t already understand in the abstract but that doesn’t make the actual cases he describes any less rage-inducing. The through-line for this book is the case of Walter McMillian, accused of a murder he plainly didn’t commit, convicted based on falsified testimonies, and sentenced to death by judicial over-stepping. It is infuriating. Stevenson weaves through more cases in alternating chapters to get to the breadth and depth of the lack of justice in this country, from children serving life sentences in adult prisons to women locked away for the high crime of losing a pregnancy UGH I HATE EVERYTHING.
His organization has notched more than a few victories but jesus h tapdancing christ how can people get it so goddamn wrong. This is a book I am going to passive-aggressively gift to “socially conservative” family for years to come.
And now we get to the more uplifting Women Talking (jk, it’s a horrorshow). While the book is a novel, it is based on the ACTUALLY HAPPENED events in an isolated Mennonite community in Bolivia. For years women would wake in the mornings disoriented, with memories of nightmares and actual bruises, bleeding, pains, and worse. Turns out, a number of the community’s men had been using a #*&$% cow tranquilizer to knock out and rape the women – young and old, related and not, it’s flibbdergibit horrifying. The novel mercifully takes place in the aftermath. The men have been arrested to protect them from the women who would do them harm and the community elders have gone to post their bail. When they return, the women are expected to forgive their attackers and continue living as though nothing has happened to save them (the women) from eternal damnation. The fuq? Oh, and for all those years, the women had been gaslighted to believe they were being visited by demons punishing them for their sins. I hate everything.
So while the men are away, some of the women have met to discuss their options – forgive, or flee.
Both of these books offer pinpricks of light at the end of the tunnel but holy gamoley it is not enough.