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In My Father's Arms: A True Story of Incest (Oxford American's One of the best Southern Books of All Time) Hardcover – October, 1999
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From Publishers Weekly
From the time he was an infant until he turned 10, Tallahassee, Fla., native DeMilly was repeatedly molested by his father, he discloses in this frank account. The elder DeMilly also molested neighborhood children and exposed himself to his daughter, according to the author. After a period of blocking out the experiences (during which he came to recognize his incipient homosexuality), a dream in college reawakened DeMilly's memories of abuse. However, a well-known psychologist dismissed them and counseled him to pursue heterosexual relationships. Years later, when the father of a neighborhood victim threatened to press charges unless DeMilly's father submitted to psychiatric treatment, DeMilly's family came to believe his account. With the guidance of a psychiatrist, the entire family, including the father, chose surgical castration as the father's treatment, only learning later how unusual their choice was. DeMilly's spare prose lyrically evinces the horror of the incidents; he effectively captures the dissociation from himself that often occurs in abuse victims. However, he sacrifices chronological order for artistic effect, creating a somewhat repetitive and confusing narrative. In the least effective passages, he attempts to re-create his father's experience, capturing his own fervent desire to understand rather than illuminating the source of his father's actions. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
One man's horrific memoir of sexual abuse at the hands of his all-American father. The book opens in Tallahassee, Fla., just after the Cuban missile crisis. Nine-year-old Walter de Milly is awakened by his father, who leads him to their backyard bomb shelter, bolts the heavy lead door, and abuses him. Shortly thereafter, the child watches his father drive to his job at the bank, ``his white shirt crisp against his Presbyterian back.'' More than 30 years later, de Milly, who has actually gone into business with his dad, picks up the phone and hears an angry neighbor speak an ugly truth: ``Your father molested my son.'' At the neighbor's insistence, the family finally confronts their father's pedophilia and takes drastic action: Walter de Milly senior, the smiling, silver-haired pillar of the community undergoes surgical castration. This book recounts the author's attempts to grapple not only with the lingering effects of the abuse he suffered from infancy through adolescence, but also with his own homosexuality and the complex blend of hatred, pity, contempt, and love he feels for his aging and increasingly infirm father. As his loving, impossibly naive mother looks on, seeing nothing, the father emerges here as a monster out of Norman Rockwell, a man who molests his son while reading aloud from the Bible, and leaves him helpful notes that read ``Smile, and the world smiles with you!'' Throughout the book, de Milly periodically assumes the point of view of his younger self, and re-creates the full force of a child's hapless bewilderment during abuse. When the author finally dares to confront his father, the elder de Milly treats years of incest as a minor character flaw and says, simply, ``I hoped you'd forgotten about it.'' In an age where such tales have become so commonplace that they have lost some of their ability to shock, the raw power of de Milly's writing ensures that readers will long remember his disturbing story. (Author tour) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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Men have an almost impossible time finding a safe place to disclose their own abuse, especially if it was their father. The statistics we have probably dramatically under-represent the prevalence of this devastating scenario. This author deserves a great deal of praise for telling his story. May we all be so brave.
As a psychologist one of the most disturbing things about this story was how the mental health world failed the author and his abusive father.