Saturday, June 23, 2018

Books: Amber Tamblyn's "Any Man"

Any Man
By Amber Tamblyn
Harper Perennial, 304 pages, $15.99, available this Tuesday June 26

Amber Tamblyn, author of the critically acclaimed poetry collection Dark Sparkler, has now turned to writing her debut novel, Any Man, a groundbreaking work on how we understand trauma.

With the influence of feminist authors like Lidia Yuknavich, Carmen Maria Machado, and Amelia Gray, Tamblyn challenges our understanding of rape culture and the trauma that goes with it, while also searching for hope, with a space for victims to be heard, in the hardest of places.

Any Man follows six men: an English teacher, an unsuccessful standup comedian, a bi-racial web designer; high school student, an alt-right media personality, and a transgender man.

One man's experience launches him into the spotlight as an unlikely activist and voice for justice, and another's trauma is told through every voice but his own, a damning commentary on how we abuse and erase the stories and experiences of survivors.

The serial rapes act as a mirror, reflecting prejudices from the media and society back towards each victim as they grapple with guilt, shame, fear, PTSD, anger, and confusion about their attack. 

Journalists and people on social media track down and harass the victim, some going so far as to question whether it is even physically possible for a woman to rape a man. Eventually, the the culture feels equally as complicit and violent as the actual predator herself. 

The power of Any Man comes from the victims' resistance to the narrative thrust upon them, refusing to be plot devices, but actual agents of action, central and ever-present as they summon the strength and courage to speak out.

Tamblyn writes in the voice of one of the victims, "I am not dead. I am not dead. I am in a body, on a ground, and it is morning. It is Winter or I am Winter. I am alive, and the behest of death's dress rehearsal. The pain. The pain. Please. My bones break each other, within. Internal ash. I move my jaw and it screams. Flex my toes and they scream. Tighten my anus, a scream. Swallow a scream. My legs are spread screams. I breathe-

'"He's here in the alley outside the Green Tavern..."
"- and the freezing air screams. Each rib expands and lets out a scream. I try not to breathe, which makes my heart scream. I take smaller screaming breaths instead. My sore neck screams as I try to lift it, making my back scream. My entire body unfolds."

Tamblyn wrote a widely shared and lauded opinion piece for The New York Times, I'm Done with Not Being Believed, and has since emerged as one of the most important voices of our time, writing about sexual assault and abuses of power.

Tamblyn, who is also an actress and director and been nominated for an Emmy and Golden Globe, uses this novel to explore a provocative and haunting story of a violent serial predator who, in the form of a woman, is the personification of a culture responsible for re-traumatizing, disbelieving, and silencing the stories of her victims.

The decision to cast a woman as a rapist is meant to challenge societal norms of victimhood and to reveal in a very visceral way how we as a society contribute to the problem. Society's biased and gendered beliefs of victims of sexual assault help perpetuate a culture that is violent and violates.

There are many questions about the role of social media in response to rape culture raised in this work, and it is used as a lightning rod that provokes a variety of responses to the reported assaults. On the flip side, social media has proven to be a way to gain change and bring people to justice. Social media movements such as #MeToo, #TimesUp, #NotOkay #PSA (powerful sexual assault) have been effective means to raise awareness.

Any Man is a remarkable examination of the darkest parts of our culture, from what we see and what we don't see, to how we act and how we don't act, and what we will and will not tolerate.

Tamblyn created a novel that is a riveting, suspenseful read that is perfect for these times and speaks to the larger cultural conversation we're currently having.

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