When I learned that I would be interviewing Alice Sebold in November of 2007, I picked up copies of her two books: The Lovely Bones and Lucky.
I couldn’t bear to read the first one–a fictional account of young girl raped and murdered who narrates her story from heaven (?). And when Peter Jackson made the movie version, starring Stanley Tucci as the rapist/murderer, I couldn’t bear to watch it. I did, however, read the second one–a memoir of Sebold’s rape at Syracuse University. She recounts, in excruciating detail, her brutal assault but also describes the unlikely apprehension of the rapist and his subsequent conviction.
Our interview at a downtown Ogden hotel lasted all of 30 minutes. I found Sebold difficult to draw out. I’d ask a question that invited further commentary–such as her mention of the rapist who described his victims as sponges–but received not much elaboration. She seemed eager to get through the Q&A. I eked out Beyond Death: A Conversation with Alice Sebold, though the introduction is probably longer than the actual interview.
Re-reading what I asked and what she answered, I’m struck by the fact that her fame–which brought her to the National Undergraduate Literature Conference and offered me the chance to meet her–came from the rape. The rape led to the memoir; the memoir led to the novel; the novel led to her fame. The rape sold her books.
I cannot possibly imagine the pain Sebold endured–and probably continues to endure. And I would never begrudge anyone the right to write about their personal experiences. But I’m struggling with this information, as well as the tortured syntax of the headline (come on NPR!): Alice Sebold apologizes to the man exonerated in the rape that her memoir focused on
Now the black man, who Sebold (a white woman) misidentified as her rapist, who served 16 years in prison, and who 40 years later has been exonerated of the crime, this man paid the ultimate price. Would we have learned about his false conviction if the proposed movie adaptation of Lucky hadn’t uncovered problems with the trial? And where is the actual rapist? Sebold has apologized. It feels too little, too late. For both of them.