These are the words of educational pioneer John Holt. They came to my mind when I sat down to write a review of Christine Stark’s ambitious first novel, Nickels.
Nickels is the story, told in a first-person narrative, of a survivor of paternal incest and maternal abandonment. The chapters are named for the age of the protagonist, and they advance in five year increments, beginning when “Little Miss So and So” is five and ending when she is twenty-five. Although Stark makes clear in her introduction that the story is not autobiographical, the authenticity of the heroine’s voices at these various ages and stages of development indicates—at least to this reader—that Stark has remarkable recall for the voices of childhood.
Thank you, Ms. Stark, for what must have been a descent into some kind of personal hell to recover this fictional Eurydice , this survivor with no name, whom you have led back up into the light of publication—an indictment and a torchbearer.
Forgetting childhood sometimes appears to be the primary goal of socialization, even as civilization promulgates evermore clever incentives for amnesia and evermore diabolical penalties for remembering.
I want to give an example of Stark’s brilliant stream-of-consciousness, literary and spot-on accurate portrayal of PTSD. This is an excerpt from the chapter titled “Age Twenty-five.” A little backstory: When the heroine was ten her father made her wear a purse, where he would put the nickels he gave her after sexually abusing her. Now, she is in a women’s bookstore attempting to purchase a feminist novel:
"Sarah rings me up That’ll be 1.95 with tax I give her two dollars five cents is your change she drops a nickel so shiny and bright into my hand I freeze the nickel rolls off my hand onto the counter I stare at it I want to tell someone something the nickel circles itself on the counter looking for a place to settle I don’t move What’s going on Tara says somewhere over my shoulder I stare at the nickel spinning in a spot next to the pile of bright pink A Room of One’s Own bookmarks I shake my head I don’t want them to think I’m crazy don’t want them to know a nickel dropped out of the sky into my hand made me want to die Keep the change I grab the book walk under the shimmering crystal into the street"
This is how it happens, integration of trauma: moment-by-moment, association-by-association, synaptic-connection-by-synaptic-connection, by constant negotiation between past and present, telling and not-telling, depairing and hoping, heaven and hell.
Thank you, Christine, for the gift.
(Nickels (ISBN: 978-1615990856) is available at bookstores, online booksellers, and can also be purchased as a Kindle download. For information about Stark and her other work, visit her website.