Unravelling, The

5 April 2022

The Unravelling: Incest and the Destruction of a Family
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Toby A. Welch
$21.95 ISBN 9780889778436

As the title suggests, this fantastic read is about how a family deals with the emotional, physical, and sexual abuse across generations . But this book isn’t just about abuse and retribution. It also delves into the dynamics of a marriage, the struggles of parenthood, and the delicate balance of friendships, among many other topics. It even touches on faith and the church. It is a fascinating story that pulls you in right from the get-go. 

So we don’t need a Spoiler Alert label at the top of this review, I won’t go into the details about how the decades of abuse and the subsequent quest for justice went. But I will say that I’d wager that Besel had no idea how extreme the highs and lows would be that she encountered along her journey. It was a wild ride!

As the chapters flew by, I was triggered by how many people wanted Besel to drop her quest for justice just because the person who abused her was in a questionable state. Should someone not be penalized for their actions because of their age, medical condition, or other circumstances? That is an intriguing question that I pondered often as I made my way through this engrossing read. 

Donna Besel is one of the bravest women I wish I had the privilege to meet. Going against the tide that is her large and vocal family – they wanted her to just “get over” the abuse she endured and “move on” – took more emotional strength than most people have the capacity for. And then to go on to chronicle her story in this lengthy book took a tremendous amount of courage. Kudos to you, Donna – you are an inspiration to so many who are struggling to find strength for their own voice. 

Memoirs can be tricky for me. I get annoyed when authors skew details to keep from showing themselves in any sort of negative light. But that did not happen in The Unravelling. Besel owned every aspect of her story, the good and the bad. For example, when her sister-in-law advised Besel to visit a psychiatrist and get on medication, Besel did neither of those two things. She made no excuses, she just owned it. 

The Unravelling was not an easy book to read. The abuse that so many people in this family endured is heartbreaking. But it is a powerful and important story. I learned so much about the fallout of abuse – often decades later – and the ways that abuse can impact and shape a family. I am a more enlightened person for having read this book and thank Besel for having the strength to see it to print. 


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