Radical Attention

Truth and Repair: How Trauma Survivors Envision Justice by Judith L. Herman. New York: Basic Books. 272 pages. $28.

The cover of Truth and Repair: How Trauma Survivors Envision Justice

“WHAT DO RAPE VICTIMS WANT?” At the height of #MeToo, this question was asked a lot. “What’s really important,” we would be told, with the furrowed brow of someone seeking to assure us of their own seriousness, “is what the victims want.” The rape victim became an offstage moral authority, someone whose judgment could be deferred to. But most often, her supposed desires were evoked to lend legitimacy to somebody else’s project. On the far left, prison abolitionists told us that rape victims didn’t really want their attackers to be punished; instead, they wanted forgiveness, rehabilitation, a kind of virtuous, self-denying nonresponse to the men who attacked them. On the right, meanwhile, conservatives claimed that what rape victims really wanted was a return to gender traditionalism, to those arrangements of masculine authority and forfeited female freedom that get passed off as “protection.” Somewhere in the vast middle, corporate feminists asserted that what rape victims really wanted—what justice would really look like—were changes to the procedures of official reporting avenues, rolled out in a series of HR trainings that would droningly instruct office workers not to address one another as “sweet cheeks.” “What do rape victims want?” we were asked, and then immediately supplied with an answer: rape victims wanted you to buy whatever the speaker was selling.

Nearly six years after its initial heyday, #MeToo has receded, and the backlash has reached its nadir. Now, the question “What do rape victims want?” has lost its aura of virtuous gravity and taken on a kind of exhausted impatience. When it is asked these days, it sounds like something you might say while squinting through a headache. “What do rape victims want?” Do they want revenge? A permanent status of moral superiority, or some kind of eternally repeated apology? In this new world, the rape victim no longer possesses the sheen of admiration that the #MeToo era gave her. Instead, there’s a potent, unmasked resentment in many people’s responses to so-called #MeToo stories, a sense of peeved exasperation with the rape-trauma genre that gets euphemistically described as “fatigue.” “What does the rape victim want from us?” these critics seem to ask. And so, “What do rape victims want?” can now most often be interpreted as, “What will it take to get rape victims to leave us alone?” But maybe this isn’t so much of a change. For all the sanctimony with which the question was asked at the height of #MeToo, nobody ever seemed to wait for the women to respond for themselves.

An exception is Judith Herman, a Harvard psychiatrist, lifelong feminist, and leading thinker in the study of trauma. Herman is not new to questions of rape and its aftermath. Her 1992 book, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence—From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror, was a field-altering intervention in the discipline. Herman is almost singularly responsible for the legitimization of rape trauma in the psychiatric field. Through her writing, research, and pioneering clinical work, she has prodded the mental health community into an acknowledgment of the unique psychological harms of sexually violent experiences—particularly those, like rape, in which a victim fears for her life. Whatever you have heard about trauma—from its clinical definitions to its literary uses to the gauzy oversimplifications of the concept in Instagram infographics and yoga instructors’ TikToks—owes its origin, at least distantly, to Herman’s decades of work.

Now, at age eighty-one, Herman is capping her career with Truth and Repair: How Trauma Survivors Envision Justice. The book compiles interviews about justice with thirty survivors of violence—twenty-six women and four men, ranging in age from twenty-two to sixty, and “diverse in terms of ethnicity, sexual orientation, and class and geographic background,” all of whom have experienced sexual or domestic abuse at some point in their lives. And so, Herman, one of the most influential psychiatrists of her generation, seems to have taken up the question of what rape victims want at precisely the moment when the fewest people are listening to the answers.

REPAIR IS A NEW SUBJECT FOR HERMAN TO EXPLORE AT SUCH LENGTH. A scholar of trauma and the longtime leader of clinical workshops designed to advance its treatment, she has focused for decades on women’s experiences of violence—that is, the psychological rupture and personal aftermath of rape or abuse—but less on its social repair. Her subject of study was the post-traumatic ordeal, what Freud called in his early work on hysterics, the suffering of “reminiscences.” In her work, Herman writes that in the weeks, months, and years following their attacks, her patients report intrusive thoughts, severe anxiety, bouts of paranoia alternating with dissociative malaise, overwhelming rage, and sleep disturbances that range from insomnia to night terrors. The symptoms derail and constrain their lives, leading to hopelessness, resentment, and an acute sense of psychic claustrophobia. Much of Herman’s earlier work contains lengthy and detailed accounts of psychological suffering, the kind felt by rape survivors, father-daughter incest victims, women fleeing domestic abuse, and former prisoners of war—people who have endured violence from which no one can emerge unchanged.

In Truth and Repair, Herman is interested not only in justice as it is applied but in justice as it is imagined. She challenges her interviewees—not her own patients, she says, but “informants”—to both interrogate and elaborate on their own desires for what should be done in the wake of their abuse. Along the way, the book runs through the various options available—from formal accountability measures like civil suits and criminal trials, to utopian efforts like restorative justice circles. It examines in turn how every method hurts survivors (which all of them do) and how every method has virtues and salvageable elements (which all of them also do). It is perhaps a consequence of her profound and evident respect for her subjects that Herman refuses to push past their ambivalence; the book is ultimately inconclusive about the correct path to justice. The result is not prescriptive but descriptive. Herman investigates the victims’ needs, takes their moral assessments seriously, and looks to their own hopes for the future for its guidance. If trauma, the subject of Herman’s life work, is about the past—“what happened to you?”—her new focus, repair, is about the future: “What do you want to happen now?” The book examines what happens when the victim, as the domestic violence survivor Mary Walsh puts it, gives up “all hope of a better past.”

Many feminists have traversed this terrain. What makes Herman’s work different is her remarkable loyalty to her subjects. She is willing to embrace their anger, even to share it. Often her own rage at the treatment of rape victims seeking justice becomes searingly apparent. “Victims of even the most atrocious crimes must establish the purity of their motives before seeking redress,” Herman says, paraphrasing the writer Susan Jacoby, “by first making a humble ritual declaration that they wish only for ‘justice, not revenge.’” At moments like these, you can almost hear her spit.

The women Herman interviews in particular seem acutely aware of the transformative power of Herman’s style of attention. One of them, Sarah Super, a community organizer from Minnesota, read Herman in the grim aftermath of a rape by an ex-boyfriend, who broke into her apartment and held her at knife point. Inspired by a chapter in Herman’s work that pointed out the value of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to soldiers and contrasted it with the absence of memorials for rape victims, Super successfully lobbied the city of Minneapolis for a monument to victims of sexual violence. The site, located along the Mississippi River in Boom Island Park, opened in October 2020, and features mosaics erected on standing panels and a circle of benches. In 2019, Super invited Herman to the groundbreaking ceremony. It’s not clear that Herman went: after decades of debilitating pain from a knee injury, Herman had major surgery that year. But the story of Super’s invitation, recounted by Herman in Truth and Repair, left an indelible image of the women together, standing in the chosen spot, solemnizing the place with the sheer gravity of rape victims’ suffering and endurance. I was moved by Super’s gesture, grateful and affected by learning of the monument in a way that felt out of character for me. For a few days, I would periodically imagine myself there, walking among the mosaics. At a dinner party, I told a friend about the monument and was embarrassed to hear my voice take on a frantic eagerness. I also knew, as soon as I read about the memorial, that I would never be able to bring myself to go.

Marina Kappos, 172, 2022, acrylic on canvas, 36 × 36". © Marina Kappos, Courtesy of Shrine, New York City
Marina Kappos, 172, 2022, acrylic on canvas, 36 × 36". © Marina Kappos, Courtesy of Shrine, New York City

IF HERMAN’S IS THE MOST PATIENT AND PROLONGED INQUIRY into the difficult question of what rape victims want for their rapists, then the answer turns out to be somewhat anticlimactically reasonable, even banal. The last two-thirds of her book consist of chapters titled “Acknowledgment,” “Apology,” “Accountability,” “Restitution,” “Rehabilitation,” and “Prevention.” Universally, rape victims want to have the truth of the man’s actions made public. They want his social standing, and the esteem other people hold him in, to reflect what he did to them. Victims are varied and ambivalent on the question of punishment, but nearly unanimous in their desire to have the man divested of the privileges—position, status, power—that would bring him into contact with the vulnerable or permit him to abuse again. Sometimes, they want apologies, and though many of them feel ambivalent about the notion of being bought off, when given the option, they often want money——mostly to cover the high costs of lost work and therapy bills. Almost uniformly, they want to not see him again.

But the question of what rape victims want from the rest of us—not their attackers, but everybody else—turns out to be more complex. What is most resoundingly evident in Herman’s interviews is also what is most unsettling and vital for readers: that in nearly all cases, the rape victim is less angry with the rapist himself than with his enablers. Sexual abuse is often a community endeavor, perpetrated not only by the attacker himself but also by the culture that encourages sexual domination as a measure of male esteem, that degrades women’s complaints and claims to equality, and that continues, after the victim makes her revelation, to hold the rapist in high regard, to act as if nothing has happened. These complicit parties are not strangers to the victim but often her family members, colleagues, and closest friends. “In the triangle of victim, perpetrator, and bystanders, impunity means in effect that the bystanders take the side of the perpetrator,” Herman writes. “The crime alienates the victim not only from the person who violated her but also from all those who doubt her veracity, who blame her rather than the perpetrator, or who choose to turn a blind eye.”

The victims often feel this betrayal more acutely than they do the original violence. Rape is a trauma, but we may not yet have a word strong enough for what follows: the treachery and abandonment felt by the victim whose rape is disbelieved, minimized, or excused by those around her. This is the wound she is least able to recover from.

Perhaps this is why #MeToo generated so much irritation and anger, so much fatigue. #MeToo made it clear that the accusation is not only against the rapist but also the people Herman refers to as “implicated subjects,” whom we might call accomplices. Another word for them is “us.”

TRUTH AND REPAIR IS STYLED AS SOMETHING OF A FOLLOW-UP to Trauma and Recovery. That book offered a new, feminist perspective on trauma: as a set of symptoms caused by the mind’s inability to integrate experiences of violence, force, and helplessness. It is credited with introducing the diagnosis of complex post-traumatic stress disorder, or C-PTSD, and with legitimizing rape victims’ symptoms as a form of post-traumatic stress, a controversial application of a diagnosis that was then almost exclusively reserved for male combat veterans. By extending the diagnosis to women, the book also extends the therapeutic response into politics, articulating a set of social conditions that make recovery possible. In other words, trauma is a psychological problem that has a largely political solution. Trauma and Recovery is Herman’s masterpiece, an example of thorough, original, and urgent work that all intellectuals aspire to and few ever achieve.

Trauma and Recovery rejects conventional clinical approaches that Herman sees as wrongheaded and outlines clinical best practices for working with the traumatized, encouraging what she calls “existential engagement” with the memory of violence, in partnership with the victimized patient. The book anticipates Truth and Repair’s focus on the authority of patients’ own accounts, giving equal weight both to the traumatizing event and to the subsequent moral injuries of disbelief and betrayal. Even during long passages that explain and taxonomize symptoms, placing trauma disorders in a clinical context and distinguishing them from other kinds of psychological symptoms, Herman never loses sight of the emergency of her patients’ distress.

The high emotional stakes of the past for rape victims bring a particular tension to Truth and Repair, which, after all, asks these women to focus on imagining a future. And though their suggestions are reasonable and straightforward, one gets the sense that the request to design their own justice is an uncomfortable and difficult ask. Though articulate and intelligent, many of Herman’s informants are also at times constrained by the limits of our collective political imagination, or so angry and hurt by the profundity of their betrayal and humiliation that the very concept of repair begins to seem inappropriate—premature and vulgar in the face of their pain. But Herman’s approach to the rape victims—her dignified curiosity; her use of them as a source of expertise, rather than as moral pawns—itself offers a new model.

That model could extend to #MeToo itself. The options available to Herman’s interviewees in Truth and Repair are the same ones that became the subject of controversy during #MeToo—prosecutions, civil suits, monetary damages—but these seem inadequate, ineffectual, and small. Procedural changes that make reporting more feasible and favorable for rape victims would improve individual women’s lives, and that’s a worthy cause. But these are ultimately minor treatments for a much greater cultural pathology. #MeToo’s greatest insight was that both the causes and the impacts of sexual violence have political origins, though this idea was quickly buried under cynical appropriations of victims’ moral authority and handwringing over due process. Fixing them will require a much bigger reimagining of how women are valued, what rights they are seen to have, and what claims they can make on our sympathy, our compassion, and our solidarity. Herman’s greatest contribution in Truth and Repair is more than her reflections on criminal procedure or the merits of restorative justice: it is that she knows how to speak to rape victims in a way that honors #MeToo’s hopefulness rather than instrumentalizing it—not with patronizing pity, but with something that looks more like respect.

IF TRUTH AND REPAIR’S SINCERITY SEEMS OUT OF TIME in 2023, that might be in part because Herman is so often out of place herself. A product of the radical feminist movement of the 1970s, Herman forged a career merging psychiatric practice and feminist advocacy over the course of decades when the two fields were often passionately opposed. After finishing her doctorate at Harvard in the early ’70s, she established a mental health clinic, the Women’s Mental Health Collective, with other members of the Boston women’s movement, treating victims of domestic violence. In that work, Herman offered her patients political accounts—rather than merely emotional ones—of their distress, attempting to situate the psychic pain of abuse in the broader context of women’s oppression. The Women’s Mental Health Collective pointed abused women to material resources to leave their violent partners, but this aid was seen as just one element of a broader political and psychic intervention that could make it possible for a woman to leave her abuser.

In 1984, Herman, by then on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, cofounded the Victims of Violence program in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a clinical research practice that, until its closure in 2022, pioneered new treatments for traumatized patients under the leadership of Herman and the psychologist Mary Harvey. In particular, the program was successful in making inroads with those who had experienced ongoing, long-term violence and confinement, such as former prisoners of war and targets of domestic abuse—whose traumatic symptoms, Herman noted, were similar enough to raise questions about why the two experiences are so differently valued.

Not everyone liked Herman’s answers to such questions. In a field that often reveres the mental health practitioner as perfectly neutral, this call for an affirmative position taking was controversial. When Herman published Trauma and Recovery, its reception in the therapeutic community was not uniformly warm, largely because of this direct call for the clinician to express moral outrage and political solidarity with the raped patient. Herman’s ideal analyst, one early reviewer wrote, “Must listen, really listen, solemnly and without haste, to the factual and emotional details of atrocities, without flight of denial, without blaming the victim, identifying with the aggressor, or becoming a detective who ‘diagnoses’ ritual or Satanic abuse after a single session, as some have been doing lately [remember, this is 1992], and without ‘using her power over the patient to gratify her personal needs.’” To some in Herman’s profession, this felt not like a suggestion but like an accusation.

Political position taking has been central to Herman’s psychiatry, particularly in her work with victims of sexual violence. Herman does not see patients’ symptoms as “pathological.” Her understanding is as radical as it is sympathetic: these supposed manifestations of an ill and dysfunctional psyche are in fact the mind’s attempt to cope with a world that does not value it. Maladjustment, in Herman’s scheme, is a kind of adjustment: it would be unhealthy for rape victims to adapt too well to a world like this one. The problem of rape trauma, then, is not merely that individual women are rendered “insane” by their inability to cope with men’s violent behavior. It’s that the way women are often treated is wrong, inhumane, and unendurable, to the point of becoming maddening. This is, perhaps, where Herman’s practice departs most productively from the conventions of psychiatry: though her work aims to foster healing for individual patients, she often seems to be suggesting that the real cure for the traumatized rape victim will not be in the analysis room but in a political movement. In this interpretation, it’s the world, not the patient, that is crazy. The logical next step is one that the psychiatric field has often found untenable: that it is the world, not the patient, that needs to change.

Marina Kappos, Frequency Study (Thoughts), 2018, acrylic on wood panel, 8 × 16". © Marina Kappos, Courtesy of Shrine, New York City
Marina Kappos, Frequency Study (Thoughts), 2018, acrylic on wood panel, 8 × 16". © Marina Kappos, Courtesy of Shrine, New York City

THE RADICAL FEMINISM OF THE SECOND WAVE, the era when Herman began her career, was often accused of mimicking the therapeutic project. In 1969, when Herman was a newly minted MD, the socialist-feminist group Redstockings organized its first, pre-Roe abortion speak-out, in which women gathered in a Manhattan church to disclose their experiences of illegal abortion. In January 1971, another feminist group, New York Radical Women, organized a similar event for women to talk about their rapes. At the time, second-wave feminist organizing was still dominated by consciousness-raising, a practice in which women would gather in groups to discuss the ways that sexism had impacted their own lives—conversations that frequently involved intimate disclosures, discussions of childhood, and meditations on the psychic turmoil of life under patriarchy, all guided by the slogan “the personal is political.” Herman joined a Boston consciousness-raising group in 1970, the same year she began her psychiatric residency.

Consciousness-raising tactics came under scorn from the New Left, which accused feminists of indulging a self-regarding emotionalism, their political work reduced to mere group therapy. But the feminists countered that the talking worked—that consciousness-raising wasn’t a distraction from action but a precondition to it. They claimed that patriarchy was so psychically oppressive, and that its pain had been rendered unspeakable for so long—dismissed as private, personal, and apolitical—that a crucial first step of feminist political work would necessarily include mental reframings and emotional catharsis. For her part, Herman saw the similarities between consciousness-raising and the therapeutic endeavor as a sign of the virtues of both, endowing women’s experiences with both meaning and context. “The confidential space of the psychotherapy office had many similarities with the free space of the women’s movement,” Herman writes. “As my patients revealed their secrets, I listened with a new awareness of women’s condition.”

But the feminists weren’t exactly being embraced by the mental health field. Psychiatry had been born with a rejection of women’s accounts of sexual abuse. Sigmund Freud’s so-called seduction theory had first posited that hysterical symptoms in women patients were often the result of past experiences of sexual abuse. But Freud disavowed this theory in 1905 and declared that his young women patients’ accounts of rape and molestation were in fact descriptions of their sexual urges and fantasies. The thesis was controversial at the time: Freud’s most famous early patient, a teenage girl he called “Dora,” abruptly ended treatment when Freud would not accept her claim that the sexual advances she was being subjected to by a friend of her father’s were unwanted. But the idea caught on, and lent legitimacy to the misogynist myth that women desire rape. The notion gained further credence in twentieth-century American analysis. Under the influence of a school of psychoanalytic thought now called “revisionist” Freudianism, the still male-dominated mental health field in the mid-twentieth century tended to regard feminism as maladaptive and infantile, the product of a pathological refusal by women to accept their proper social roles and reconcile themselves to what were supposedly their “real” desires: motherhood, marriage, and submission to men. At the radical feminist speak-out on sexual violence in 1971, one woman described being told by her psychiatrist to masturbate in front of him as part of her “treatment.”

Herman’s own psychiatric practice can be seen as a kind of repetition of Freud’s encounter with sexual abuse—but done correctly this time, facilitating a reconciliation between feminism and psychiatry. Like Freud, Herman was confronted with a staggering number of accounts of sexual abuse—molestation by father figures, rape by boyfriends and husbands, assault by bosses, neighbors, friends—from her women patients when she began her practice. But unlike Freud, Herman proceeded from the assumption that her patients were telling the truth. Her belief in her patients’ accounts shaped her psychiatric philosophy as profoundly as Freud’s disbelief shaped his.

Through consciousness-raising, the feminists sought to take on their own traumas—and gender hierarchy itself. Herman was at the intoxicating center of this new political front, an author of the emerging feminist position positing that politics shaped personal experience, and that personal experience could inform politics. If patriarchy was a social pathology, feminists believed they had found a talking cure. But then as now, it just wasn’t clear that anyone was listening.

But if feminist movement politics made the rape victim’s self-disclosure a public form of political agitation, then the psychiatric relationship was meant to offer a more private repair. Trauma therapy, of the kind practiced and advanced by Herman, promises the rape victim a form of recovery and recuperation that can, at its best, validate her pain, restore her safety and dignity, reposition her in her social environment as a valued equal, and return her to health. At least that’s the idea. But the therapeutic relationship in reality is much more fraught; even the most compassionate and talented of practitioners, like Herman, cannot guarantee a meaningful or permanent recovery from the psychic effects of violence. And what psychiatry can do, it can only do slowly, expensively, and on a tiny scale of one-on-one treatment (or, in the case of Herman at the Victims of Violence program, in small groups). Meanwhile, when political conditions do not improve, one victim’s recovery is a mere drop in the ocean of pain created by the ongoing emergency of rape. While the rape victim embarks on the slow, arduous, and incremental work of making herself well, thousands more women experience rape trauma, and are thrown into the moral isolation and mental morass that follows. In this context, a therapeutic intervention can seem like a tragically inadequate response to sexual violence.

Herman is perhaps unique among psychiatrists in the careful thought she has given to the relationship between emotional pain and political action. In Truth and Repair, the most telling theme—and perhaps the one trait that all her correspondents have in common—is the rape victim’s desire to protect others from experiencing the same fate. Herman’s account returns to this wish over and over again, in part because the survivors she interviews keep bringing it up: they insist that any form of “justice” worthy of the name would require the man who hurt them to be stopped from hurting anyone else. The pursuit of this aim leads women into distressing and costly endeavors—like testifying in court—that can seem to impede their healing. After a long explanation of the harms and hostilities endured by gender-violence victims in criminal courts, Herman explains, “Those who chose to participate in the criminal justice system did so mainly because they saw no other way to prevent the offenders from repeating their crimes.” Sarah Johnson, who was raped by a classmate in high school, decided to cooperate with the cops after learning that she was not the boy’s first victim. “The detective told me he knew what happened—[the boy] had done this to between five and ten other girls,” Johnson says. “There had been complaints, but none of them would press charges. He said, ‘Sarah, you’d be helping many girls if you did.’” Later, when Herman observes a Tucson restorative-justice program called RESTORE, she notes the frustration of victims with the program’s emphasis on apology. The women didn’t want statements of regret from their attackers, which they often suspected were insincere. Rather, they wished “to make sure that the responsible person doesn’t do what he did to anyone else.”

These testimonies caused Herman to revise her initial 1992 account of post-traumatic healing, laid out in Trauma and Recovery, which posited that the final stage of recuperation was a victim’s ability to move on with her life. Now, she sees these women’s sense of being in community with other potential victims, to whom they owe solidarity and self-sacrifice, as being the last phase of the healing process.

In the women’s insistence on protecting others, it is hard to see evidence of what #MeToo’s critics seem to fear from the rape victim. The people Herman interviews are not motivated by vengeance or by emotional weakness; they are neither delusional as to the facts, nor overzealous in their interpretation of them. The problem is not with the women’s aims. It is that they cannot achieve them alone.

The #MeToo disclosure is so fraught for the listener, so “fatiguing,” precisely because it creates moral obligations for us. The words “this happened” and “he did this to me” must change our behavior and bring us into solidarity with the rape victim. That means offering a lasting and concrete opposition to rape and to the impunity of those who commit it, rather than relying on pacifying clichés like, “I’m sorry that happened to you” or “That must be so hard.” The rapist must change in our esteem; his reputation and status must be lessened to reflect what he did. The rape victim must be acknowledged and restored to the full membership in the community that the rape denied her. We can no longer act as we once did; we can no longer behave as if we do not know something that we do. Not if we are to live honorably, or by our own principles.

But so many of us do not live honorably, and do not follow our own principles. To our shame, we find it too painful, or too difficult, to oppose rape; too costly to approach its victims with respect. And it is costly. The anger provoked by #MeToo, the exhaustion and annoyance felt at its parade of female suffering, might be best understood as a response to this shame. The rape victims, in their terrifying numbers and evident righteousness, were creating in us, their listeners, an obligation to transform our world. It was a task that most of us did not feel up to, and ultimately, it was one that we rejected.

What rape victims want is to not be betrayed this way, to live in a community that shares their values and sees the horror and the wrongness of sexual abuse. They want their friends and family and lovers to seek to eliminate such violence without having to be told to. “What do rape victims want?” is the question that motivates Herman’s project in Truth and Repair, but the answer seems to undermine that project itself: They want a world where they do not need to be asked. This is the world we have not been strong enough to make for them.

In Trauma and Recovery, the women and girls Herman treats feel breathingly present on the page. Reading the book, one has the sense of Herman’s traumatized patients staring back at you, alert as rabbits. It was a feeling not unlike one I experienced at moments during the height of #MeToo: all those women, famous and anonymous, their jaws set in an intolerable certainty, seeming to stare out at me from magazine covers and newspaper homepages with an expectation that was always disappointed. Maybe this intimate presence of suffering is what makes Trauma and Recovery almost unbearably punishing to read, and Herman’s work more generally very difficult to confront. Her allegiance to her patients, her willingness to attend to the often very dark corners of their minds, reflects a personal strength on her part that I do not share. The first time I read Trauma and Recovery, it took me months to finish. I dragged myself to its pages and then quickly abandoned them, desperate to look away. Herman has made a career of not looking away. What has she seen, I wonder, that the rest of us, in our weakness, have missed?

Moira Donegan is a writer and feminist.