Monday, February 24, 2020

Review: If You Tell, by Gregg Olsen

If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of SisterhoodIf You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood by Gregg Olsen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gregg Olsen's "If You Tell" was a riveting read, which despite its length took me only 2 days to finish. That's not usually how I approach a book. I take moments to read in between chores and responsibilities and even commercials. It's low-pressure, and I eventually finish. With "If You Tell," I got absolutely nothing else done until I closed the book and took a breath.

"If You Tell" is the story of an ego-maniacal girl who grew into an abusive, manipulative monster. There's no explanation offered in the book for her mental state, but from the beginning she perpetrates measures large and small that are destructive to those involved but have seemingly no effect on her. From adolescence to adulthood these oddly orchestrated scenes intensify, as do the costs to others, but again not to her. She does just awful, unthinkable things to anyone in reach: her children, her husbands, other family members, co-workers, and other social relationships. Shockingly, despite the magnitude of some of these atrocities, no one on the outside sees it, and no one on the inside tells or asks for help. These acts include sexuality-focused abuse, cruel and humiliating forms of torture, poisoning, and murder. And she just keeps moving forward, leaving destruction behind her and beginning again. Because no one dares to challenge her.

Olsen's storytelling style confused me at first. It was narrated by an objective, unknown third person, punctuated with pieces of interviews from various people who spoke mostly from hindsight. I realized quickly that it had the feel of true-crime television programs, like 48 hours or anything you might see on ID TV. Most of the telling was just that -- telling. The reader gathers the story not from scads of dialogue between characters, but from the outside voice of the narrator. And once I had that figured out, it was a very easy, if not highly upsetting read.

Truth be told, I was horrified by what I read, intrigued enough to research the story behind the book, and saddened by the utter lack of justice for a lifetime of damage done. Many lifetimes worth of damage. I will say that it only took me 2 days to plow through the book but it's going to take more than that to stop thinking about its contents and pulling myself out of the hopeless empathy I felt for the victims as I read about their suffering. It got in my head. I applaud the author for his ability to put this all together in such a comprehensive, respectful, and candid (raw) manner.

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