Review: Robyn: Family Secrets by Glen R. Stott ★★★★

RobynRobyn by Glen R. Stott, author of Dead Angels and Timpanogos, is the harrowing tale of sexual abuse in a Mormon family. Skipping between past and the present, it is an epic tale about how sexual abuse has affected people over generations, while the perpetrator has gotten away with it for so many years. Robyn acts as a kind of detective of her family, trying to uncover the awful truth about her grandfather, Joshua Godwin. Eventually, the full truth may be revealed.

At first I was left wondering why this book was written. Why the author, as a man with no personal experience with this issue, as is made clear in the foreword, would write a book about child molestation. If I had gone through this experience, I’d be more comfortable reading someone who had gone through it themselves, no matter how well-researched the book may be, and it seemed worrisome that a writer might decide on such a subject without first-hand emotion to work with.

I was left extremely uncomfortable with the abuse descriptions of the act at the start of the book as well. They’re not overly graphic, but any description at all seems unnecessary. The idea of father-daughter incest is so disgusting and so visceral that all you really have to do is mention that and people will understand immediately. This issue is made more stark by the fact that it’s by a male author who has not experienced that himself in some form.

My personal feeling, as a naturally protective father to a young daughter myself, is that removing this content would not be a watering down at all, as the emotional impact of incest is understood without ever having the experience.

With all that said, the rest of the book is a careful and well-considered portrayal of a family recovering from abuse. As such, the portrayal of the act was superfluous, as the need for recovery from incest is completely understandable and really needs no preface. The use of different voices and different time periods gives the book rich context. We see the perspective of one of Joshua Godwin’s victims, who is understandably angry and profane. We see his daughter, who has her head in the sand.

The book is also a fairly incisive critique of the Mormon Church, where piety is not always gauged by action, and the reader is left with the distinct impression that the church culture is rife with chauvinistic attitudes where sexual abuse can have some cover.

All told, Robyn is a fairly difficult book to read for its subject alone, but it is also a well-constructed book, evidently both a hugely painted and subtly drawn history of one family’s tragic past and how that plays out within the setting of the Mormon tradition.

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