Post-Traumatic by Chantal V. Johnson

Sometimes I read or watch something that is painful, and maybe at times I even find it a little tiresome — because it is so freaking accurate. (These parts of the book about whale anatomy are almost as tedious as being on a whaling ship for months or years!) I had a bit of that with this book. Being close inside the psychology of a woman who views every interaction as either a quest to impress someone or a threat to her safety (while simultaneously being very analytical) is kind of exhausting. But I imagine that’s the point.

The raw psychology here is undeniable. This is how her mind works, and she more or less knows why. It’s not just being a Black woman. It’s coming from a background of sexual abuse and unstable family dynamics, too, and moving in a world outside of and beyond that. If something tripped me up, it was in the moments where Vivian was justifying something to herself (and the reader) that wasn’t really justifiable. It felt clumsy. I’m not sure how one could better do that — convey a person internally attempting to justify her own questionable behavior, but not terribly convincingly — but there must be a way. Perhaps uber-close third person narration isn’t the best way to do that. Perhaps it needs to come from observation, not just straight interiority. I don’t pretend to know. I just know that reading it, those lines (and there were several of them) took me out of the dream.

On the whole though, impressive and unsettling and, I think, important.

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