What is gone in your life? Have your feelings of safety and trust diminished over time? Such is the case of Amy Knox Brown, who looks at the kidnapping of a college freshman on the campus where she teaches along with the enduring impact of being raped and reassess what she believes. The result is a powerful and thought-provoking memoir, What Is Gone. The book looks at duress, loss, and changes beyond our control in both immediate and far-reaching terms.
What Is Gone combines violence and nostalgia in Lincoln, Nebraska a town that made the narrator feel so safe that she missed signs of danger. She felt safe in both Lincoln and Omaha, where she was a college student, until she became the victim of a brutal rape.
Her experience in Omaha is compounded seven years later when Candice Harms, a first-year student at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, disappears while Brown is teaching an evening class there. Looking at this disappearance, rape, and murder juxtaposed against her own experience, Brown sees Lincoln in a new light. Downtown is largely vacated and Brown re-evaluates the truths she accepted as a child, leading us to explore our own stories. How many of our beliefs about our hometowns are true?
Have you ever crossed the street to avoid someone who seemed unsafe? Or refused to avoid someone who seemed shady because you didn't want to seem rude? Do you trust your instincts and has an event ever altered that? All of these are questions Brown considers as she looks at the impact of rape and date rape.
I have read many memoirs about the crippling power of rape. This story is different. The narrator is incredibly forthright, assuming responsibility for her actions and holding others culpable for theirs. She presents a complex situation through the lens of two experiences, which is an unusual approach in a memoir. Her experience and her objective reporting make the reader feel empowered. We don't have to make her mistakes, yet empathetic readers will share her sadness over the stark changes in her hometown.
If you liked nuanced prose and a three-dimensional look at cause and effect, if you're curious about the effects of rape and kidnapping, or if you love a good mystery, immerse yourself in What Is Gone.
Amy Knox Brown is a fourth-generation Nebraskan currently living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she is an assistant professor of creative writing at Salem College and director of the school's Center for Women Writers. Three Versions of the Truth was a finalist for the 2008 Shenandoah/Glasgow Prize for Emerging Writers, and she is also the author of a poetry chapbook, Advice from Household Gods.
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