by D. M. Ditson
Published by Coteau Books
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$24.95 ISBN 9-781550-509663
Sure it’s a cliché, but I had a hard time putting this book down. Welcome to the literary world, D.M. Ditson, with your intimate, hard-hitting, and honest portrayal of matters that are not easy to share. First book? Could have fooled me.
Sexual abuse, Fundamentalist Christianity, mental health issues, black-out drinking, and a dysfunctional family are the collaborative demons in Ditson’s memoir, Wide Open, and though the subjects are difficult, Ditson’s fresh style, pacing, and example – of how to live through the pain – are the reasons I’m recommending this book both publicly and privately.
The former Regina journalist and government communications consultant is “obsessed with telling the truth”. She relays her story in the way you want someone to tell a story when it’s really interesting: the book moves. Like a pinball game. And I applaud the structure, with shifts in time (“Now,” “Youth,” “Childhood,” etc.) clearly indicated.
After a riveting prologue, the book swerves to Ditson’s return from Belize where she’d gone to let the jungle heal her. Back in Regina she meets Ian, whom she’s loathe to introduce to her parents: “It’s going to go badly the second one of them mentions God, science, TV, politics or practically anything else,” she writes. A few pages later she’s in a “Childhood” section, and the voice is convincing: “The butterflies dance like fancy figure-skater ladies in their sparkly dresses but don’t come close.”
Before meeting Ian, Ditson, at eighteen, was raped by a forty-year-old, and years later she makes it her mission to find this man and have him charged. But there are other perpetrators, too. I’ve read many books on sexual abuse and its lifelong repercussions, but Ditson’s is the first that opened my eyes to the apparently not uncommon practice of abused women who – after an initial, forced sexual act – try to be in a relationship with their attacker. The need to be loved is so profound.
The author provides numerous examples of her parents’ distorted beliefs, and to quote another cliché, my jaw dropped. Her sister says “Holy smoke,” while playing Barbies and has her mouth washed out with soap, because “Only God is holy”. The writer’s father is in Promise Keepers. The daughters wear chastity rings. On a mission trip to Timbuktu, Ditson befriends Raja. They share the same “twin fires burning for God,” but can’t hug for more than three seconds: “it’s against the rules.” Ditson’s mother believes there are pimps at the mall and kidnappers at the fireworks’ display. No books allowed unless they’re from a Christian bookstore. (“Rapture Survival Guides” abound.) Dad says he’s been “struggling with pornography” because he’s “been addicted to the Sears catalogue”.
And here’s the crux: these Christian parents frequently have audible sex when their family’s in the same tent or hotel room. Holy. Ditson begs her father to stop this.
Even into her thirties, Ditson’s still being told to “honour [her] father”. Thank god there’s an epiphany in this fascinating story: wait for it.
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