Book Talk: My Dark Vanessa: A Novel by Kate Elizabeth Russell
“ Russell manages a brutal originality. . . . [an] exceedingly complex, inventive, resourceful examination of harm and power.”
—The New York Times Book Review, Editors’ Choice
About the Book
Exploring the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher, a brilliant, all-consuming read that marks the explosive debut of an extraordinary new writer.
2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.
2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?
Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.
Reviews and What Readers Say
“ To call this book a ‘conversation piece’ or ‘an important book’ feels belittling . . . [it] is so much more than that. It’s a lightning rod. A brilliantly crafted novel.”. —The Washington Post
“ A brilliant and stunning debut, My Dark Vanessa is utterly truth-rattling, humane in its clarity and chilling in its resonance. An absolute must read.” —Gillian Flynn, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Gone Girl
“ My Dark Vanessa destroyed me. This moving, ferocious story of an all-consuming relationship between a teenager and her teacher traces not just a stolen girlhood, but the aftershocks that haunt trauma survivors years into the future. Gripping, stunningly written, and important . . . I’ve been waiting for this book. ” —Julie Buntin, author of Marlena
“My Dark Vanessa is a harrowing triumph. Complex, smart, and utterly riveting from start to finish, Kate Elizabeth Russell’s debut novel cracks open assumptions and clichés, and delivers a layered, nuanced narrative that is vital for a more thorough understanding of the extent and longevity of the damage wrought by sexual abuse. Be prepared for a pit in your stomach, a lump in your throat, and reading late into the night.” —Lily King, bestselling author of Euphoria
“ Explosive... a significant addition to the necessary reassessments and conversations sparked by the #MeToo movement.” —NPR
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Kate Elizabeth Russell was born and raised in eastern Maine. She holds an MFA from Indiana University and a PhD from the University of Kansas. My Dark Vanessa is her first novel.