Tuesday, February 16, 2010

New Today: Gemma: A Novel by Meg Tilly

If you think you know anything at all about Golden Globe-winning actress (for Agnes of God) Meg Tilly, you are probably wrong. For another, her talent is deeper and more enduring than even her staunchest fans probably know. Likely, as well, her pain. I’ll tell you why I suspect these things in a single word: Gemma (St. Martin's Press).

Gemma is a brilliant and horrible portrayal of sexual abuse from a child’s perspective. Based on material that came with the book as well as things Tilly has written before -- mainly in her highly-acclaimed debut work Singing Songs -- elements of Gemma are autobiographical. A note on the Web site for the book says, “VERY IMPORTANT: This book is not appropriate for anyone under the age of 15.” I am not under the age of 15, but I’m not entirely certain the book was appropriate even for me.

The title character has been enduring rape at the hands of her stepfather since she was eight. At 12, he sells her to Hazen Wood for $100. Hazen tosses her in the trunk of his car and sets off on a cross-country trip seemingly designed to bring Gemma to horror, yet the child is determined to survive.

Gemma is not for everyone. It includes graphic scenes of sexual and emotional violence and it is at times quite harrowing. To be honest, there were passages early on in the book when I was not sure I had the strength to keep reading. Thankfully, the bad guy gets caught and more than half of the book -- the second half -- deals with the child’s rescue and recovery. There are moments of genuine warmth and light in Gemma, though some readers might not find enough of them to overcome all of the true to life horrors the child must endure. In their review, Publishers Weekly suggested that Gemma might be a valuable book for those recovering from abuse. For the rest of us, the raw power of Tilly’s well told story might be a little too much to endure.



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