Recommended Reading (Fiction): The Likeness, by Tana French
I first encountered Tana French’s The Likeness when I learned that the twitches and twists and jumpiness and general anxiety resulting from my rape was not just all in my head. I learned that it had a name, that it was PTSD, and that it would be a long time, possibly, before I would begin to get over it – that in reality I might not get over it at all, that I might just be a fucking jumpy person for the rest of my life.
I first encountered Tana French’s The Likeness when I needed it the most. Because French’s heroine, Detective Cassie Maddox, is also suffering from something like PTSD. She is a tough, powerful woman who is living with a condition that has come on suddenly, and that makes her feel anything but tough. French’s ability to describe that condition, and Cassie’s ability to survive it, to live with it and thrive, hit home for me. I needed someone who could explain to me what I was feeling, because I sure as hell couldn’t. I needed someone to reassure me that I wasn’t made entirely of glass, or styrofoam, or pure air. Identifying with a heroine who felt my pains helped me to see myself as solid again, as a complete person who could perform activities both simple and complex without dying, without hurting.
The Likeness is a good read, a good novel. But that isn’t really why I’m recommending it. I’m recommending it because, at its heart, it’s a novel that exists to tell the story of a woman who is real, who is solid – but who doesn’t feel like she is. It tells the story of a woman who has spent so much time inhabiting other identities that she isn’t sure anymore what pieces are Cassie and what pieces belong to someone else. In other words, she’s going through the identity crisis that so many feminist women endure – the recognition that sometimes we don’t recognize ourselves, that sometimes all the strength and power we want to hold in our hands is still just out of reach, that sometimes the hands that shake and twitch are the ones that are truly capable.
Right now there are plenty of people out there singing the praises of that old MTV favorite, Daria. And I’m excited about the DVD-release of our favorite bespectacled 90’s girl, really I am. But the same sense of “oh my god that’s me” that so many ladies had the first time they saw Daria – that’s the feeling I have when I read about Cassie. And I have a feeling some other ladies out there might recognize her too.
It’s a good read, I promise. For more on the actual plot (since this is my non-traditional can’t-be-bothered-to-explain-it-to-you book review), check out the New York Times article on it.