This book is such an incredibly intimate look inside one woman’s life that I was almost ashamed of myself for reading it. The author’s voice is so true in its halting, neurotic narration that it was difficult to remember that this is a work of fiction.
We first meet Lily when one of her abusers dies and the reader is gently led through her mind’s wanderings as she tries to make sense of her role as a victim of incest. From the outside, Lily could be seen as any other woman raised in the Catholic Midwest during the baby boom generation. She managed to make her way to college, get married and divorced, and find a way to support her children largely on her own.
Lily’s Odyssey is not concerned with outward appearances, however. This story is about a woman’s journey to recall childhood abuse and come to terms with the way it has changed her life. Lily not only struggles to remember the abuse itself, but how to share that information with others, if at all. As a middle-aged woman, she has managed to find an awkward but polite existence with her extended family and worries that cracking open the past in order to be true to herself may destroy these relationships forever.
The dilemmas and internal monologue ring true as Lily takes the reader into her past and her nightmares. The story is a painful one, if only because the effects of the abuse on her life are so clear in so many ways. Lily’s view of herself and the world around her has been clouded by her mind’s attempts to reconcile her family’s inability to protect her from her abusers and the tangle of emotions and fears and rational thought is a difficult one to unravel.
It is said that one in four women suffers some kind of sexual abuse in her lifetime. With those statistics, it is not unreasonable to think that there is something in this book for everyone. If not victims ourselves, we all certainly know someone who has struggled with thoughts and feelings much like Lily’s and the author’s tender, accurate portrayal of the victim’s thoughts and emotions is a powerful way to increase our empathy.