If I Am Missing or Dead: A Sister's Story of Love, Murder, and Liberation
Janine Latus’ bestselling memoir, If I Am Missing or Dead, is remarkable in many ways. Latus took her training as a journalist and freelance writer and transformed a painful story of growing up with an emotionally abusive father and numerous incidents of sexualized violence and domestic abuse into an adamant account of conflict and resistance in a context of victimization and violence against women.
The memoir revolves around Latus’ own struggle to break out of a series of abusive relationships, as well as the story of Latus’ sister, Amy, who faced many of the same problems in her relationships with men, and was eventually murdered by her boyfriend. The title of the book repeats a line in a letter Amy taped to a drawer in her office desk only a few weeks before she went missing, and her body was later found buried at a building site-a letter that informs those looking for her that Amy suspected her boyfriend of being capable of killing her. It represents the deeply disturbing conflict that runs through both sisters’ stories: the fact that both women were acutely aware of their victimization in their relationships with men, and the ultimate danger they were in, but found themselves trapped in a toxic mix of abuse, shattered self-worth, and an undying hope to finally find love and respect from the men in their lives.
Latus does not shy away from exposing this conflict, and at the same time, her journalistic stance enables her to describe it without commenting, without (self-)blaming. This very aspect is the key strength of the book. It allows the reader to empathize, identify with the Latus sisters, or see themselves in the book, without being drawn into the all too familiar compulsion to blame women for choosing the wrong men and staying with them even after the relationship turns abusive.
The author and her sister did not choose. Instead, they were surrounded by men who grew up learning that abusive behaviour is acceptable and caught in a life that taught them that men are driven by uncontrollable urges to take what they want-even if that means emotionally, physically, or sexually abusing their daughters, girlfriends, or wives.