“The Burning,” by S. O. Esposito, is a fast paced thriller about a woman with Disassociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD). It’s an aggressively feminist book that looks at the many different ways rape culture is the status quo, enforced both actively and passively by both men and women.
There’s also arson.
I should note that I received this book as part of a GoodReads give away in exchange for my honest opinion.
Every time I run into a book featuring Disassociative Identity Disorder, my hackles go up. It’s a flashy, vilified mental disorder often used cheaply and meanly to indicate someone is a villain or just flat out CRAZY!!!!!!!!!. It’s a cliche that further stigmatizes a very real mental illness that affects marginalized people. Esposito seems to have done her homework, however, and her protagonist Alice Leinenger is a person and a character with attributes outside of “just” living with DID.
Alice is married to a lawyer and is a stay at home parent (with a nanny) to two young kids. They live in a condo that is impossibly expensive and have more money than I can realistically comprehend. She and her friends casually buy Manolo Blahnik shoes the way some people stop in at payless for sandals that are on sale. When not sniffing her kids’ heads, shopping, or brunching Alice works with a nonprofit designed to help sex workers transition to a life that doesn’t include sex work and addiction. They offer job training, education, clothing, and some therapy as well as woman-power yoga classes. Also, for some reason, glamour photo sessions. I didn’t quite understand that part but then I’m not super wealthy and don’t volunteer with organizations working with sex workers.
The action kicks off at the funeral of a young woman Alice and her friends are working with. The young woman’s best friend claims she was murdered, because she was part of a sex ring organized by a wealthy businessman who was also drugging and prostituting affluent young (white) women. She knew too much. And now the friend is in danger as well. When she vanishes, the action really kicks off.
Meanwhile, Alice starts coming to terms with her blackouts and missing time and the objects she owns that she doesn’t remember purchasing or receiving as gifts. After exhaustive physical workups Alice sees a lovely therapist who suggests DID very quickly and begins hypnotherapy. This eases us into some of the traumas of Alice’s past life, a life that stands in stark contrast to her current cushy one. She also has to deal with her husband’s lecherous business partner, who is constantly coming on to her. Her husband is reluctant to do anything about him because it might cost them his living, and thus their condo and private schools for the kids and everything else. People with power do tend to stay in power as so many others remain eager to prop them up for personal gain.
AS I mentioned, this is a fast paced thriller and it’s easy to care for Alice and her struggles. However the writing is a bit clumsy in places, including the casual and abrupt mention that one of the other characters was raped when she was a teen. Additionally, while the trafficking of Latina girls is treated as a bad thing, the trafficking of white girls with money from good families is treated as somehow worse. It’s BAD ENOUGH that these dudes are targeting sex workers but they GO SO VERY FAR as to also target young women of their own social class. It’s a typical classist view that really rubs me the wrong way. I’d have liked more mention of actual social workers working with the sex workers, as well, not just rich women with too much time and money on their hands.
All in all, though, this was a good and interesting book… and apparently one that’s quite a bit different from Esposito’s usual fare, which is cozy mysteries featuring dogs (some of them psychic?). Although the genres are so very different, Esposito’s writing is pretty great when it’s not clumsy and I might pick up more of her books.