Nickels: A Tale of Dissociation
Modern History Press (2011)
Reviewed by Joseph Yurt for Reader Views (9/11)
Mental Health America defines dissociation as a mental process that causes a lack of connection in a person’s thoughts, memory and sense of identity. Driving on a familiar road and abruptly realizing that you don’t recall the past few miles you just traveled is the kind of mild dissociation many people have experienced. But when new author Christine Stark decided that one of the concepts she wanted her first book to explore was dissociation in an immediate and centrally focused way, she chose to write a story in which dissociative experiences of childhood sexual abuse are the central, chronic, and overwhelming problem.
Stark’s story, “Nickels: A Tale of Dissociation,” takes the reader on an unimaginable, excruciating journey in the company of the mind of a biracial girl named “Little Miss So and So,” from age four into adulthood. The vast majority of readers are not likely to have seen the written and verbal portrait of childhood and developing personhood that the author paints. Her canvas is the character’s inner-most mind in which she blends a unique, rhythmic prose with powerful and unsettling imagery.
Particularly piercing and provocative is the dissociative world created by “Little Miss So and So” in her early childhood years of four and five. She uses her own special language and her own secret places to help her sustain her disconnection from the never ending horror, which she cannot yet fully comprehend, brought upon her by an incestuous father. It’s a world populated by China Doll Girl, P girl, Suit Man and Mad Dad. But it’s a world that keeps her safer than her real world.
“Nickels: A Tale of Dissociation” will inherently fall on a continuum of reader opinion. Educators, writers and advocacy organizations have already lauded the book on many fronts. Among more casual readers, some will no doubt set the book aside after reading the first chapter and never return. Some will simply find it a good story. Still others will find it a riveting story that they are unable to put down. As for me, the author’s innovative writing style and powerful verbal imagery simultaneously commanded my attention and distracted me. There were times along the way when I had to step outside the child’s world for some fresh air. And there were occasions when I wished the journey would just end. But, all things considered, I am grateful to Christine Stark for taking me to that place. Childhood sexual violence is more widespread in America than most people realize. Take the journey with “Little Miss So and So” because if we don’t know about her world, we won’t care enough help solve the problem.