Feature

My Lie: A True Story of False Memory by Meredith Maran

Maran writes about the mistake she made two decades ago, when she accused her father of having molested her when she was a child, and her efforts to make amends for the false memory.

(Jossey-Bass, 260 pages, $24.95)

A reader of Meredith Maran’s new memoir can’t help wondering “how the hell” she made the mistake that the book describes, said Michael Humphrey in Salon.com. About two decades ago, when she was in her late 30s, the San Francisco Bay Area journalist accused her father of having molested her when she was a child. She broke off communications with him and for eight years barred him from seeing the grandchildren he loved. But in the 1990s, as stories emerged that cast doubt on the veracity of the “recovered memories” of many self-described sexual-abuse victims, she realized that her memory of being molested by him was false. “Metaphorically, everything we were saying was true,” she says now, equating her father’s emotional distance with abuse. “But there was a confusion between metaphor and fact.”

The author details her struggles to make amends with her father, but this isn’t just one woman’s story, said Caroline Leavitt in The Boston Globe. Maran provides a fascinating account of how feminists like herself worked collectively to expose child sex abuse—only to themselves become caught up in the “mass hysteria” they’d triggered. Like countless of her contemporaries, Maran was encouraged by a therapist to construct a memory of abuse out of emotions, dreams, and hunches. One “terrible development” of that period is the doubt that actual abuse victims must now face because of such fabrications, said Steve Weinberg in the San Francisco Chronicle. Still, Maran is so tough on herself that sometimes I felt like telling her: “Stop beating yourself up.”

Therapists shouldn’t lose faith in themselves either, said the “Dear Emma” blog in the Connecticut Post. False memories that involve childhood sexual abuse occur because that time in life is characterized by both “yearnings for intimacy with a parent” and disappointment over receiving too little attention. Any adult’s account of childhood molestation deserves a hearing, but therapists must also remember that every one of us craves “a big, flaming explanation for our suffering.”

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