His Favorites – Kate Walbert.

Reviewed by Thomas Van Essen

“Thank you for listening he wrote.

Dear beautiful, he wrote.

I know I can trust you, he wrote.

I think of you all day, he wrote

I wonder how you taste, he wrote.

Secret-keeper, he wrote.”

With the recent inundation of high-profile sexual assault cases and the resistance spearheaded by empowered celebrity women speaking out against abuse, its inevitable that we should get a new wave of feminist literature that encapsulates the importance of this movement. This is one such novel.

In His FavoritesKate Walbert, author of the equally harrowing “A Short History of Women”, chronicles the story of the fifteen-year-old Jo who, in the wake of a terrible accident that kills her best friend, is sent to a prestigious boarding school to turn a new leaf. However, any hope of finding sanctum in this new home is dashed when Jo gains the adoration of  Master, a charismatic literature teacher, who uses his position of power to groom, manipulate and assault his female students.

His Favorites is a story about loss, grief and guilt but more importantly, it is a story about vulnerability and the perverse abuse of power associated with it.

Walbert crafts a narrative that has been told many times before (and sadly will be continue to be told) but manages to stay poignant and engaging. Her prose is loose, free-flowing and not restricted by flow of time, as the plot moves back and forth with turbulent cadence. There are times when her character goes on monologues that may seem tangential, longwinded and somewhat superfluous. The writing style mirrors the scattered mind state that Jo is in as she reflects upon her experience as a victim of trauma and survivor.

Walbert successfully navigates the question ‘What do daisies on a counter have to do with the story?’ This speaks to the tendency of humans to strip stories to their raw components, abstracted from emotional context in an attempt to maintain impartiality, especially when addressing allegations of assault, rape and sexual deviance.

But in abstraction, we render the whole incoherent. We lose sense that what we are hearing is the narrative of someone with unique history and experiences. Walbert, beckons us to listen. To listen to the whimsical and irreverent anecdotes of adolescent youth, alongside the raw, unsettling details and subsequent loss of innocence.

This is one of the best works of fiction in recent memory to illuminate the failure of modern (patriarchal) society to protect young women and the predatory toxic masculinity that stems from it. It is about the dishonesty of institutions which would, in effort to preserve their reputation, would rather turn a blind eye than address issues of systemic, longstanding abuse.

At its core, this is a truly heartbreaking rendition of the plight of young women trying to find their way in a hostile world, not only indifferent to suffering, but facilitative of it.



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