Book Check: The Other Side, Lacy M. Johnson
Title: The Other Side
Tell Me About the Author: Lacy M. Johnson is the Director of Academic Initiatives at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts at the University of Houston; she earned a Ph.D. from the university's acclaimed creative writing program in 2008. She's the author of the memoir Trespasses, and her creative and academic work has appeared in Tin House, Fourth Genre, Creative Nonfiction, Sentence, and Gulf Coast. She is also the co-artistic director of [the invisible city], a multimedia project that made its debut at this year's CounterCurrent Festival. [the invisible city] allows people to connect through narratives specific to location, community, and culture.
And this Book is About What? Johnson's memoir opens with her frantically stumbling out of a screen door, a two-by-four in her hands. She finds her car underneath a tarp, and drives away from the house she's escaped from in mad fright. Almost as is she's running away from a monster. And she has. Or is, as this escape is just the beginning of a lifelong fleeing from The Man I Used to Live With. Johnson begins her memoir with the night that changed her life forever, the night when she was abducted by her former lover of nearly three years, forced into a soundproof room, and then raped. The Man I Used to Live With would have killed her, but she manages to wrestle out of her constraints.
Johnson does not name the characters that populate her past life. They are The Man I Used to Live With, The Detective, The Social Worker, My Older Sister, My Handsome Friend, My Good Friend. This device works to take the concrete details of her life, and transport them into the realm of memory, where past reality is manipulated by narrative and narrative is shaped by perspective.
Through this one tragedy, Johnson reveals the life that led up to her abusive relationship and the distressing aftermath. She is an everyday girl, a young woman with a curiosity for life, and a desire to experience the world beyond her parent's and small town habitat. She's a restless, eager, adventurous spirit with an interior life marked by writing, first in diaries, then through poetry. She looks for love in all the wrong places, and in revealing her romantic missteps, it becomes clear how one could willingly accept the treacherous love of an abuser.
The tone of this memoir might have been completely different if the perpetrator would have been caught. But there is a chilling sense of violation that permeates the years that unspool. Johnson marries twice, has two children, is accepted into a distinguished graduate program, but the man who wreaked havoc on her life remains a free man, albeit on Venezuelan soil. The terror of his return, of further injury to body and psyche, follows Johnson wherever she turns. Her direct and honest prose not only evokes empathy, but an incendiary anger knowing that this existence is not just a reality for Johnson, but for countless other women as well.
Should I Read It? The Other Side is required reading for anyone who is skeptical of the inherent misogyny in heteronormative culture. There is an overt war on women, this war is not a new one. Johnson shows that the major battles are fought in the interior lives of women, the sanctums of domesticity that are seldom glimpsed by outsiders. The social media outlets of today have brought the conflict to the forefront of public discourse, but this chilling memoirs is a reminder of the violence that very often goes unnoticed, and, worse yet, unpunished.
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