Programs & Registration

How to do window-side pick-up

We are allowing people to place holds on items and pick them up at the window next to the front doors between the hours of 9am-4pm Monday through Friday and 9am-1pm on Saturday.

To place holds, login to your account on the online catalog, email us at swa@noblenet.org, or call 781.596.8867. You will be notified when your items are ready.

Do you need suggestions for something to read or watch? Fill out our Book Recommendations and Requests Form and we will either grab your requested items or suggest a list of titles for you to try.

Want to see our list of new titles for adults, young adults, and children? Check them out on our New Titles page.

Do you need to use our printer? Send your document to swaprinting@gmail.com. It will be ready to be picked up the next day.

Would you like to use a computer? Check out one of our new laptops to use on the library’s patio for one hour. Reserve one today.

Curbside Reopens 6/22

The library will be opening on Monday, June 22nd from 10-4 for curbside service ( window ). Patrons can call the Reference Desk at 781-596-8867 (ext. 3304) to request books for pickup starting on 6/22 @10am.

Patrons can also request materials by email at swa@noblenet.org or go online at www.swampscottlibrary.org and search materials through our catalog to make requests. Patrons will have to have their library card with them when they come to the window to pick up their materials. Also they must wear masks when coming to retrieve materials. Books will be able to be returned into the book drop beginning Monday, June 22nd. These materials will be quarantined for one week and then be checked in and removed from patrons’ accounts.

There will be no fines applied to patrons’ accounts.

Home delivery of materials will begin on Monday, June 29th.

The library hours will be Monday – Friday 10-4. These hours are tentative and may be changed to accommodate the needs of our library patrons.

Библиотека  начнет работать с

понедельника  22 июня с 10 до 4 часов, однако, двери библиотеки не будут открыты для посетителей –  выдача книг будет производиться через окно у входа.

Читатели могут звонить по телефону

781-596-8867 (добавочный 3304)   чтобы

заказать книги и  позже получить их через окно. Читатели также могут прислать заказ по электронной почте  или заказать через каталог.

При получении книг – библиотечная карточка  и МАСКА  необходимы.

Возвращать книги – через ящик для возврата начиная с 22 июня.  Книги будут на карантине в течение недели, после этого они будут  приняты и списаны со счета.   Штрафов не будет.

Временное расписание  работы библиотеки

Понедельник – Пятница  с 10 до 4

Learning Series: Family Law with Sherry Smith Transcription

Susan: Hello, and welcome to the Librarians by the Sea podcast, hosted by, you got it, the librarians of the Swampscott Public Library. My name is Susan Conner, and today I am taking the podcast in a little different direction. Instead of discussing a really good book, I am going to speak with local attorney Sherry Smith, who specializes in family law. Today, she will focus on issues of domestic violence, child support, child custody, and visitation rights. Getting help from the courts can be challenging, even without the COVID-19 pandemic, and Ms. Smith will give you some information and resources which may make the process easier. Some of the resources that Ms. Smith mentions are listed on the library website. Go to https://www.swampscottlibrary.org and click on the Town News tab. That will give you a list. You may need to scroll down, but the list of links is listed there. Sherry, thank you for joining me today on the Librarians by the Sea podcast. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself before you start your presentation?

Sherry: Sure. Well, welcome to family law basics. Again, my name is Sherry Smith, and a big thank you to Swampscott Library for offering this opportunity to talk with you about this important subject. I’ve been working with domestic violence victims both at Essex County District’s Attorney’s office for 20 years, and now at Greater Boston Legal Services, where I’ve been for 17 years. I’m so happy to join with you in sharing what I’ve learned, and I hope to answer some of the questions you may have about restraining orders and family law as it relates to children, and getting help in general and during the Covid crisis. This overview will be about a half hour, maybe a bit over, and there will be some time for questions from Susan. 

Read more Learning Series: Family Law with Sherry Smith Transcription

Learning Series: Local History with Mary Cassidy Transcription

Susan: Hello, and welcome to the Librarians by the Sea Podcast. My name is Susan Conner, and I’m the assistant director here at the Swampscott Public Library. Today’s podcast is going to be all about the New Ocean House, which was a nationally-known resort hotel located right here in Swampscott. Today my guest is local resident Mary Cassidy, whom I’m sure many of you already know. Mary is a past president of the Swampscott Historical Society, she served on the Swampscott Historical Commission for many years, she was chairperson of the Train Depot Exterior Renovation Committee, and she was recently active with the restoration of Andrews Chapel. Thank you for joining me today, Mary.

Mary: Thank you very much, Susan, I’m happy to be here.

Susan: I understand that the new Ocean House was just an amazing place in its heyday, but tell me, why was a big hotel built in Swampscott?

Mary: Well, the history of the New Ocean House goes way back, as far back as 1835. Now keep in mind that’s before Swampscott was a town and before the Civil War. And it wasn’t on Puritan Road at all; the very first one was called the Ocean House and the story goes that the proprietor of a well-known restaurant in Boston was fishing one day off the Swampscott shore and he remarked as he passed by Phillips point – now I want to stop and say that the Phillips family owned everything from the Fish House all the way to Marblehead, and they had a large family and they had several farms, but it was all owned by the Phillips family, so all of those points were called the Phillips Point – and so he, it was where he passing by, then it was called Phillips Point, now we call it Galloupes point, because a family called Galloupe bought many acres and built a magnificent estate there, much later than this story begins. So he thought,

“This would make a fine summer resort,” and he bought nineteen acres from Farmer Phillips for $1600, and he built the first, what it was called, Ocean House. This was the first summer hotel on the mainland of the North Shore of Boston, so Swampscott has the right to say that we had the first summer resort. Soon after, there were 16 other small, what we could call inns nowadays, but small hotels in Swampscott, because people from Boston – not very far away, because this is the day before the automobiles – that people from Boston would see how beautiful this area was, and they would come and spend the entire summer. However, that hotel burned down in 1864, the Ocean House burned down. So another Ocean House was built on Puritan Road, directly across from the entrance to Whale’s Beach. And this Ocean House said in its brochure that it just wanted to have the most respectable and exclusive clientele. Nowadays we couldn’t say that in a brochure, but in those days they said that was exactly what they wanted. And that hotel burned down in 1882. So you may be wondering why they were burning down. Well, keep in mind there were no telephones and that the fire station was way on the other end of town. So if a wooden building had a major fire, you can be sure that it burned right down to the ground before help would come.

Susan: Wow… 

Mary: In those days, in those days. But in 1884, a firm owned by Ainsley built a hotel on the same property, and now they called it the New Ocean House. So this is the one we are most familiar with. And in 1902 there were extensive renovations totaling $100,000. Imagine $100,000 in 1902, what that would be today. The structure was five stories high and 450 feet long, and, it said, it was now “the most select summer hotel on the New England shore, having accommodations for 400 people.” And then in the brochure it said, “there are over 100 private baths.” So, what did the other 300 people do? And then it said, very proudly, “it is lighted throughout with electricity.” 

Susan: Oooh…

Mary: So this was in 1902. And then it also had a nine-hole golf course that extended all the way down to Humphrey Street. It was a par 3 but it was a nice golf course. It also had tennis courts and a billiard room. Then it had, an 8-story fireproof annex was built, and it had the children’s dining room, and I thought this was rather interesting, because the children were allowed in the main dining room only for dessert, or for special occasions, such as their birthdays.

Susan: Oh, my!

Mary:

nanny or nursemaid; the hotel provided one to sit with the children and teach them proper table manners. There were also in the area four cottages, with six to twelve rooms each, available if guests wished for private accommodations. There was a cottage for the waitresses and another cottage for the cook and the crew and other workers. Interestingly enough, at that time there were not too many local people who worked there, because it was a seasonal business. The season was from May to Labor Day. So, I think that that’s pretty much the history of our New Ocean House.

Susan: That’s quite a story. What were some of the amenities that the hotel offered back in the day – what sort of things made it special? You said the golf course; that was good.

Mary: The heyday of the New Ocean House was in the early 1900s, 1920s, and 1930s. It filled 22 acres of land and employed 150 persons during the season, and it welcomed over 50,000 guests annually. The main lobby had a ballroom, a movie theatre, a barbershop, a beauty salon, a health clinic, a coffee shop, dentist, library, and card room. And then along the edges of the lobby there were several small shops, clothing shops, flowers, gifts, antiques, a candy shop, and there were daily newspaper from all over the country so that the clientele could read their own newspaper from as far away as California. There was also a cocktail lounge, a golf shop, a photography studio, and a dance studio. And the lower area, which was not open to the public, housed a bakery, a tailor, a fish market, a housekeeping center, laundry, a butcher shop, and a print shop. And the print shop not only published the daily menus, but also who was arriving at the hotel, so that if someone was famous was coming you were made aware of it, or someone from your area. So the New Ocean House was truly a self-contained city. 

Susan: Wow. You had me there when you said there was a candy shop in the lobby. (both laughing) I think that would’ve been my favorite! I like that.

Mary: Oh, one other thing I wanted to mention, too, about the garage, because automobiles were fairly new in the ’20s, and so there was a well-appointed garage on the premises where the automobiles could be cared for and stored, they could procure gasoline and be repaired, and there also were rooms for the chauffeurs at the garage. Also there were stables for horses. If you brought your own horse and wanted to go horseback riding, or if you wanted to rent a horse and go horseback riding, that was available, too, so I just wanted to add that.

Susan: That sounds like so much fun. Even a place where your chauffeur can stay, that’s fabulous. Were there large national events, were there big events held at the New Ocean House? I do know it was a nationally-known place. 

Mary: Yes, well, as early as 1941 President Roosevelt and his staff stayed at the hotel when he met with Winston Churchill off the coast to discuss the Atlantic Charter. And this was quite an exciting time for the inhabitants of the town, and many people went out in boats to get a closer look at history in the making. But it wasn’t really until the ’50s and ’60s, when it no longer was a hotel for people who wanted to come and stay for the summer, although some people did, but it was more of a national convention site, and so there were many, many national conventions that were held at the New Ocean House, bringing people from not only all over the country, but from all over the world. And this was mainly I would say in the ’50s and ’60s. 

Susan: Oh, interesting. It really was well known, then.

Mary: Yes.

Susan: Can you mention some of those – you mentioned President Roosevelt; that’s an impressive guest to be there – were there a few other famous people that you remember stayed there, that you’ve learned?

Mary: Well, the list of people who stayed at the New Ocean House is quite impressive. It includes Rudy Valée, who was a popular singer in the 1920s –

Susan: Oh, yes –

Mary: – and then President Calvin Coolidge, who came later to stay, to spend summers, at the White Court, he would stay at the hotel before that. Eleanor and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt were guests, Herbert Hoover, Helen Keller, Babe Ruth, Tallulah Bankhead, Sinclair Lewis, Walter Brennan, Harpo Marx, Lucille Ball, Guy Lombardo. Here’s an interesting fact: Rev. Billy Graham held his first appearance as an evangelist at the hotel in 1925. And John F. Kennedy held his first major fundraiser for his campaign for senator at the New Ocean House, and there were many, many more, too numerous to mention. My sister tells the story that, in the ’50s, she was at the Boston College prom, which was held at the New Ocean House, and Frank Sinatra was appearing in another area – he was staying at the hotel, I believe, and appearing somewhere in Boston – and he came back to the hotel and entered the BC prom and sang for them, and she said that was something she’ll never forget.

Susan: Oh, yeah!

Mary: So there were many, many famous people who stayed at that hotel. 

Susan: Interesting; I love that. Well, can you tell us a little bit about the ending of the New Ocean House? I understand it had an unfortunate, but quite a spectacular ending.

Mary: Yes, indeed it did, Susan. Let’s see, it was on May 8, 1969, and it was one of the worst single-dwelling fires in Massachusetts history, and it destroyed this almost 100-year-old New Ocean House. The reservations clerk and the assistant to the general manager was the only employee in the main building. She called the Swampscott Fire Department at 9:53 p.m., when she smelled smoke and heard crackling to the left of the elevator opposite the front door. So the Swampscott Fire Chief Walter Champion stated that the fire seemed to have started in the extension in the back of the hotel. It quickly spread through the wood building and flames consumed the hotel within minutes after the firefighters arrived. The Beverly Times reported that at about 12:45 a.m., “the blaze took on the aspect of an inferno. Flames reached heights of better than 300 feet and were visible for hundreds of miles, literally turning night into day. Many people from town went down; spectators went down – in those days there was a horn system that blew when there was a major fire, and a lot of people had the paper in their home that told them what the number of bleeps on the horn were –

Susan: Oh, sure – 

Mary: – and so when they saw New Ocean House, everybody – not everybody, but a major, major amount of people in town went down, even though the fire started at 10 p.m., and were down there watching. As I was there my dad called and told me, “get in the car, we’re going down to see the New Ocean House.” So many people were at that fire. And the sad thing about it was that there had been a water break. Fire Department Captain James Champion stated that there was a private contracting firm installing sewerage lines along Gale Road – Gale Road is right off Puritan Road – and they failed to report a broken water main to the fire department. As a result, when the firemen arrived and connected their hoses to the nearby hydrants, the water pressure was minimal. Hundreds of feet of empty outstretched hose lay flattened near the entrance to the hotel due to lack of water. All the water, he said, had come from hydrants towards the Fish House and from Humphrey Street – as far away as Humphrey St. They tried to get water from the swimming pool in front, but it had been drained for the season –  

Susan: Oh – 

Mary: Yes, it had been opened up. And they then went to look at the ocean for water. But it was dead low tide. And as you know, at the New Ocean House Beach, when it’s low tide, it’s so far away that they couldn’t get that water, too. So it was as a very, very sad moment. But there were over 40 communities, from as far away as Gloucester and Boston, that sent equipment, and as many as 200 firefighters battled the fire. Several were treated for smoke inhalation. So that was the sad ending to the New Ocean House. But it really was the end of an era because the New Ocean House had an effect on the town. When these people would come for the summer, they would go and buy their things on Humphrey Street and use the businesses in the town, so they really made a difference to our town. And then even during convention time, they would really use and enjoy the town of Swampscott. So when that fire brought the New Ocean House to the ground, it was headlines in papers all over the country, because so many people knew of this hotel. We have copies at the historical society of the front page of newspapers in Chicago, California, all over the country, the front page, talking about the New Ocean House fire.

Susan: That is really something. And it was – it, and then its two predecessors – that really made Swampscott; that was a really big piece of Swampscott history, and people from that era really remember it. It’s sort of faded from our awareness right now, but I’m so glad you were able to share that story with us. It was just such a very different era. 

Mary: Well, you know there are so many people in town, Susan, who did not even know it existed. Because the only people, really, that would know would be the older people in our town. So newer residents coming in are not really aware of it. But I hope someday to have either a marker or something put down by the New Ocean House Beach that says “This is the site of the former New Ocean House Hotel.” Right now the only thing that is left of the hotel is a large white semicircular seating area. It’s called an exedra, and in those days it was where people would go to get out of the sun or the wind and just sit and talk, but it’s still there. It’s in terrible condition, and my hope is that we get funds from somewhere in town to have that repaired, and then maybe on the back of the exedra have a plaque that says it’s from the New Ocean House, because it’s a lovely little thing to see if you go by the park by new Ocean House Beach. That’s all that’s left of the beautiful, beautiful new Ocean House. 

Susan: That and our fantastic memories of it, of all the famous people that were there, and just the different era when things were a little more gracious.

Mary: Yes, every once in a while there’s a display in the town hall with many pictures. I think talking about the New Ocean House is one thing, but you really have to see it to see how beautiful this enormous white building was in our town. So sometimes they have a display, the Historical Society will put it in a display at the town hall, and there are many, many pictures of the New Ocean House.

Susan: Definitely have to look for that. Thank you so much. That sounds fabulous. I really think I would’ve enjoyed staying there. That was just great. 

Well, that wraps it up for today. Thank you, Mary, so much for sharing your stories with us. I appreciate your coming and chatting with me. And thank you also to the listeners. I hope you’ve enjoyed this talk as much as I have. So thank you, and we’ll say goodbye for now; goodbye!

Mary: Goodbye!

Episode 9: Transcription

Today on the podcast, Head of Reference Janina and I discuss the new novel My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell. This book tells the story of the psychological and emotional effects of an affair that the main character, Vanessa Wye, had with her teacher at a Maine boarding school when she was 15. The book jumps from the year 2000, when Vanessa and her teacher begin this abusive relationship, to the year 2017, as she navigates her memories of what happened in the wake of the present-day Me Too movement. There is a lot to discuss, but I also wanted to give a heads-up: this interview deals with heavy subject matter and is probably not appropriate for kids. Enjoy!

Julie: Hi everyone! Today I’m here with Janina, who is the Head of Reference at the library, and we have actually both read the same book, it’s called My Dark Vanessa and it’s by Kate Elizabeth Russel, and it is a very new book – it came out in March of 2020 – and it was extremely popular; it was on many of the must-read lists for 2020, and it got a lot of great reviews, so I was really excited to read it and I think Janina was as well. The subject matter is pretty difficult to deal with; it’s about a woman whose name is Vanessa Wye, and it takes place between her teenage years in the year 2000 and then when she is in her 30s in the year 2017, and it deals with sexual abuse that she suffered at the hands of her teacher at a private boarding school in Maine, and the reckoning that she goes through both in her teenage years and in adulthood about what happened to her, in the wake of the Me Too movement. So it’s pretty current, because there’s not a lot of books that have been written about this yet, so I think we’re both pretty excited to discuss it. So thanks for being here today.

Janina: Thank you.

Julie: So just at first, to start, I would love to just ask you what drew you to this book, why you chose it, why’d you pick it up?

Janina: I really was intrigued by the premise of the book because it was taking – it seemed to take on a different view of the predator and, for lack of a better word, prey relationship between a teacher and a student in that Vanessa seemed inclined to think that she was to blame for it and that it was completely consensual, and that kind of idea intrigued me to delve into the book to find out what exactly happened between these two to make her think that.

Julie: Yeah, I would definitely say the same thing. I think, you know, many of the reasons that I mentioned at the beginning of the show – it was on many of the must-read lists and it’s also one of the first fictional accounts of the hashtag Me Too movement that I’ve seen so far, so I just wanted to see how the author would go about that topic. 

Janina: Right, same.

Julie: Also, the cover was really – I thought it was beautiful. 

Janina: Yeah.

Julie: That drew me to it as well. It’s a woman with her hand over her eye and over her hand is a butterfly, and it’s done in black and white, so it’s kind of interesting.

Janina: Yeah, it kind of – the dark part of My Dark Vanessa, kind of fits the cover.

Julie: What about your general impressions of the book?

Janina: My general impressions were that sometimes it was – I had to put it down because it got a little icky in places, which I think is – you know, it’s supposed to be icky because of the nature of this “relationship,” and I kind of put quotes around that “relationship,” and there were plenty of times that I got irritated with the characters, especially Vanessa, which sounds odd – I mean, Strane was just a straight-up predator, but Vanessa was a victim, and I kind of wanted to smack her a few times and tell her to wake up, but I couldn’t. At the same time I couldn’t leave it, I had to finish it, because I had to know what her ultimate action was going to be. 

Julie: Yeah, I agree, I found it really uncomfortable to read – almost all of it. It’s not really enjoyable to read, for sure, it’s not, you know, an escape for right now – but I thought that it was an important read – definitely something that I wanted to finish, like you say. And I thought it was powerful; I thought the story and the way that she told it was powerful. 

Janina: Yes, I agree.

Julie: What did you think about the tone and setting of the novel? I thought it was pretty specific to the subject; I wonder if you feel the same way.

Janina: Yes – yes, I thought that the tone and the setting were – I thought it was good, I found the book to be really, I mean it was dark and kind of disturbing, but –

Julie: So it takes place in Maine, like I mentioned, at a boarding school, for much of the book, and then the other part of the book is when she’s an adult and she’s living in Portland, Maine. And then at times she’s at her parents’ house, which is, you know,. maybe closer to her boarding school. But, yeah, it’s all like the fall, or early winter, in Maine, like around a ?pond –

Janina: The decay and the death and –

Julie: And it’s all very dark.

Janina: To make it even more morbid.

Julie: It’s just pretty bleak.

Janina: Yes. That’s just the general sense of the whole book, I thought, was bleak.

Julie: Yes.

Janina: But there was – there was this smidgen of hope, it was a little bit like Pandora’s box – 

Julie: Mm-hmm.

Janina: There was a smidgen of hope that things were gonna be – that she was gonna figure it out, and she was gonna be okay, sort of, as much as she could be.

Julie: Yeah. I agree. I sort of kept waiting for her, in the present, to sort of make the realizations that she had to make.

Janina: Those were the parts that were very frustrating for me, I have to admit – because, as much as I had hoped that she would do it, a part of me was wondering “exactly at what point is this going to happen, because you’re really irritating me right now, and things are blowing up, and you have the perfect opportunity to come clean, and you’re not,” and that was very frustrating to me.

Julie: I felt like the book was a little long, too, it kind of lasted maybe longer than I would’ve chosen.

Janina: Yeah, I think it could’ve done with an editing job because it sort of got repetitive towards the end a little bit –

Julie: Yeah.

Janina: – in the later chapters, and I think that’s probably what added to my frustration, too, because we kept going over the same points of her not coming forward, and it just kind of lagged a little bit there.

Julie: Yeah, it’s hard to watch the same – or not watch, read about the same person making the same mistake – not mistake, but – go through the same thing again and again and again and again for years, which is –

Janina: Yeah, it was definitely a vicious cycle that just didn’t end.

Julie: No.

Janina: So, the story moves between Vanessa’s teenage years and her present. So how do you think Vanessa changes throughout those years?

Julie: I didn’t see a lot of change in her between the two. I feel like she had almost been stuck in place when she was 15 – when this abuse started to happen. In her later years, she was like working in sort of a dead-end job in a hotel in Portland and she’s not really going anywhere and I think at the beginning, she had shown promise, but she had sort of been wrapped up in this relationship for 15, 16 years, and I think had almost stunted her growth in a certain way, except she is so defensive of him, even still, into her 30s, and that’s – I think that’s the part that’s the most difficult to read about, is how defensive she was of him. 

Janina: Yes, yes. And I think you picked up on a – I think that was a really good point that you just made about him having emotionally stunted her growth because she didn’t seem to really move past the quote-unquote “relationship” and she didn’t seem to know how to cope with her feelings. And I think that that was a good point about how – that it really kind of did stunt her. And she’s abusing substances that are not helpful for her to move forward in any kind of way.

Julie: Right, yeah. She definitely seems to use certain things as a crutch to not confront her real life – which I’m sure is a symptom of the abuse that she suffered at that age.

Janina: Right.

Julie: Without the book’s own Me Too movement, do you Vanessa would ever have admitted to herself and her therapist that Strane had abused her?

Janina: Maybe eventually, but I think it would’ve taken a lot longer and that without the Me Too movement, bringing abuse and the different stories of abuse – and not to mention Strane’s abuse of other girls – I think it kind of forced Vanessa’s hand a little bit; it forced her to get out of that little bubble that she was in, [thinking] that everything was great with Strane, and made her think about actually what happened in her “relationship” with Strane, and – I don’t think it would’ve, I think it would’ve taken probably many more years for her to actually do anything had the Me Too movement in the book not started. 

Julie: Yeah. So in the book there’s a constant sort of threat that her story is going to be exposed by another survivor of the abuse by the same teacher, but a different girl, and the other girl is asking Vanessa to tell her story publicly to give her story more clout. And I found that that’s a really complex thing to ask survivors to do – 

Janina: Right.

Julie: And I’m not sure – I don’t know if it painted the Me Too movement in a great light at times, particularly the role of the media.

Janina: Yes – yes, when the reporter kind of tries to push her to come out with her story. 

Julie: Yeah.

Janina: But I also think that it was a good thing that – while the Me Too movement was a positive thing, in the sense that it got those stories out there and the acknowledgement that these things do happen, that they continue to happen, and that there are predators out there that are getting away with it, there was also a dark side to the Me Too movement, and – you know, anytime there’s something like this, there’s always that small slice that decides, “well, I’m gonna lie about this” –

Julie: Right.

Janina: – “because I want my five minutes of fame” – and that ruins something like the Me Too movement, because survivors of abuse coming forward – it takes a lot of bravery and strength to be able to tell that story, and for somebody to come along and lie, it just, it ruins the whole thing and makes it kind of fall apart, and it’s not – it’s not sympathetic to the actual abused victims.

Julie: Right.

Janina: Does that make sense?

Julie: Yeah, I agree. Yeah, I’m always on the side of all survivors; but it shouldn’t – no survivor should also feel that they need to come forward with their story.

More to this sentence – can’t discern the words

Janina: Right, because it’s hard – it’s a hard thing to do, and you know, I commend the people that can come forward, but I also feel very strongly that they don’t have to, because that’s their own – that’s their pain –

Julie: Yeah.

Janina: – and who wants to live out their pain in the media, you know?

Julie: Yeah. Why do you think it took so long for Vanessa to admit to herself what happened to her?

Janina: I think for Vanessa, I think that she had disassociated from what had happened to her a little bit – like if she, by blaming herself, then she didn’t have to admit that it was abuse, and she didn’t have to admit that she wasn’t special, and that Strane actually did not love her – he was a predator, and she was just a tool for him to be basically a pedophile. And I think that she was so starved for love and attention and affection in the beginning of the story, when she was a teenager, and him singling her out made her feel special, and I think that she also had a problem with the fact that this was like – he was like her first love, but it wasn’t a normal kind of love, obviously, it was a predator–prey, it was an abuser and abused victim, it wasn’t a normal kind of relationship, but for her it was like that – that heady feeling that she got when she was around him, is was what teenagers and most people feel in the throes of first love, like “Oh, isn’t he wonderful,” but there’s this dark underbelly to it that’s just gross, and I think that she needed to feel that she was important and special, and I think even as an adult she needed that, because as we talked about, her growth was stunted, and I felt like her parents kind of abandoned her. Her dad didn’t want to talk to her about it, her mother didn’t seem to want to talk to her about it and got angry with her about it, and I think that that didn’t help her process anything. So she clung to him for that – for everything that she was feeling, he became the focal point.

Julie: Mm. I think the parts that were the most difficult for me to read are when she, both as a fifteen-year-old and as an older person, didn’t put the blame on him but put it on herself, saying ‘he can’t help what he’s doing because I’m just so irresistible, as a young woman, it’s unfortunate but it’s just the way it has to be,” and I think that’s the part that I struggled with reading the most. She seemed to sort of defend it. 

Janina: Yeah. Well, he doesn’t really – his comments to her – they talk a lot about priming them – or, is that the word that they use? He kind of primed her for this, because there were comments that he would make – he would say one thing and then do another, and then blame her for the thing that he just did that was wrong. And so I think she – as a teenager, she didn’t have the ability to say “Oh, wait, you just contradicted yourself,” and “that’s not what you said, but this is what you did.” And so she didn’t have that ability to separate herself from that and be like “You are a liar, and you are taking advantage of me, and you are manipulating me in this situation” – she didn’t have the ability to do that, because she was a teenager. Those are things sometimes that you learn as you live your life.

Julie: Right. Or never – never have to learn, hopefully. 

Janina: Right, right. 

Julie: Yeah, this sort of goes into one of my questions that I had about Vanessa as a narrator herself.

Janina: What did you think?

Julie: I’m not sure what I thought of her. I think because of all the reasons that we’ve discussed, the trauma that she had suffered made her almost unreliable as a narrator, and it was really difficult to read all the things that she had to say about the situation, even when she was – even as a teenager, when she was describing some of their first encounters that she has with Strane, she goes back and forth between being completely disgusted with him and then, you know, thinking that this is the best thing ever, that it’s true love. That’s just hard to read. Yeah, I don’t know – did you have any feelings about her as a narrator?

Janina: I actually, there were times, a lot though the book, where I actually didn’t really like her. 

Julie: Mm-hmm. 

Janina: Because, yeah, she was unreliable, but I think when she was a teenager, I had more compassion for her. But then as an adult, not coming forward, not admitting to herself that what Strane did to her was abuse – I found myself kind of not liking her for a while, and I think that this book was actually – it kind of felt like a meditation on finding compassion for somebody who’s going through something that’s emotionally and mentally and physically harmful and trying to find the compassion that they won’t stop the behavior from happening. That she would continue on with this relationship and defend him, I found that to be an exercise of “Okay, she’s in the midst of still feeling abused, of having” – because he’s still using her, in a sense, and I found it to be like, “Okay, you have to have compassion for somebody who is not yet at that point in their process of healing who is not able to admit what they just went through.”

Julie: I really like that – I think that’s really important, and yeah, it’s probably the way that I was also approaching her, but without realizing – yeah, that’s a really good point. I didn’t think about that.

Janina: Thank you. So, what did you think of how current a topic the novel is?

Julie: Yeah, I thought that it was good to read about a story that is basically happening even at this moment – you know, there’s still people coming forward, and it’s celebrities and other public figures are still in this reckoning process, and I think it’s only a matter of time until more of these stories come out.

Janina: Right. And now the thing that I’m happy about is that some of these people are facing real – some of these men are facing real consequences to what they’ve done, such as Harvey Weinstein being in jail now. 

Julie: yes. 

Janina: I listened to Ronan Farrow’s podcast and his hunting down of the truth about Harvey Weinstein, and he had Rose McGowan on the show at one point, and it made me have a lot of respect for Rose McGowan for being so brave to call him out, essentially, and risk, you know, ruining her reputation and her career to shed light on what was really happening behind closed doors, and to get him to the point where he’s now in prison, that was like – and it made me feel so sorry for all the people, all the women, that he abused, that he raped, and tried to ruin their careers if they didn’t go along with him – it was just, it’s heart-wrenching. 

Julie: Yeah. And nobody wants to be the mouthpiece for – for anything like this. It’s not doing anything for your popularity; if anything it’s making people look at you more often and check your credibility in a lot of ways.

Janina: Yeah. It comes down to the “What was she wearing?”

Julie: Yeah. Do you think Vanessa suffered from a kind of Stockholm syndrome at the hands of Strane?

Janina: Yes, because she seemed to sympathize with her abuser when he was being accused. And it was like a typical moment in our history where in the beginning of the Me Too movement, all of these things had happening for so long. This was not the first time he’d been accused, but he’d been able to get away with it. And it was, I think, a mix of him manipulating the situation so that he wasn’t – so that he could make it look like “Oh, well they just had a crush on me and they misread some signs,” which is exactly what he did with Vanessa – but I also think that schools were, and still are in a sense, willing to look the other way and not pursue anything because they don’t want to tarnish the reputation of their school. So I think that she could not separate herself from him for so long because it was kind of a Stockholm, sympathize with the abuser, situation.

Julie: Yeah, I agree. I also think it has a lot to do with it being who has the most power in a relationship like this, in which case he’s the teacher, he has the power, and it’s unevenly distributed in this relationship, and I think that’s where it turns to more of an abuse situation. And that’s pretty clear when – hopefully this isn’t giving too much away, but – when she, she only spends one year at the school because this relationship forces her out at a certain point, and he is basically the impetus for her being kicked out because it’s easier for him and he has the power to do so, and she suffers a lot because of that – she’s at a disadvantage for her education, and socially, and she has to take all the blame. 

What did you think of – so when she is kicked out, she has to apologize, or speak to it, in front of all her classmates – what did you think about that?

Janina: I thought that was a very, probably – I thought that was a weird kind of twist to the whole thing, that she had to apologize to her classmates for making them believe that she was in a relationship with him. And then later when you find out that Strane was already making plans for what would happen if they were found out, and making plans against her to protect himself, it just – it made me wonder again why she couldn’t figure it out from that. Why, especially, I can see it as a teenager, but as an adult – 

Julie: Yeah. 

Janina: – that’s where I had a problem. But I think, as you had mentioned, the power was unevenly distributed, and he did have all the power – he had all the power in his relationship with her, but he would try to manipulate her in such a way that he tried to make it seem like she was the one that had the power over him. 

Julie: Mm.

Janina: And I think maybe – I’m just realizing this now – that maybe that realization, or him trying to make it seem like she had all the power over him, that that made her then think that “maybe I do have the power,” that “maybe I am the one that lured him into this relationship,” that “maybe I am the one that pursued him,” so maybe that was the narrative that she just – I mean, it was definitely the narrative that she carried on – but I think maybe because of how he manipulated her, and made her think that she was the reason for all of it.

Julie: Yes. That’s a good point, and I didn’t think about that, but that’s a really twisted way to lure somebody in: by telling them that they’re actually luring you in.

Janina: Right. Because I think he mentioned it a couple of times, that she didn’t realize what she did to him, or how she made him feel – there were a few instances in the book where he made reference to that in the beginning. What did you think about the moment when he said to her that he was going to ruin her, when she was a teenager and the affair had just started?

Julie: I don’t know if I remember that part –

Janina: They were in the classroom together, and he had his head in her lap, and he had basically just admitted how he felt about her, and got her to admit that she felt the same, and he said very softly “I’m going to ruin you.”

Julie: Oh. Oh yes. It’s pretty foreshadowing. Well, it’s obvious that he meant it.

Janina: Right.

Julie: You can’t tell how many of these relationships he’d had before her, or how many existed after her, and it’s sort of a cycle of abuse that he continues to inflict on people, so he would know better than anybody. 

Janina: Right. I almost wonder if it was a moment of clarity for him – because you don’t, we don’t get his side, which, I mean – okay, that sounded wrong. 

Julie: No, I know what you mean.

Janina: You know what I mean, though? We don’t – I guess we know what his side is, but were there ever moments of clarity for him? Were there ever moments where he knew what he was doing was wrong?

Julie: Yeah. This actually makes me think – a big part of the book is referencing Lolita, which – I read it a long time ago, but I think it was from the perspective of an adult man that fell in love with a young, young girl. And it’s very, you know, it’s a classic, it’s you know, there’s flowery language, and it almost makes it feel like it’s not wrong what he did.

Janina: Right.

Julie: Have you read it?

Janina: I haven’t read it. I’ve seen adaptions of it.

Julie: Yeah. So in that way, I wonder, since that’s told in the perspective of the abuser, I wonder if it’s a similar situation, where we get that perspective through Lolita.

Janina: Because Strane, he definitely – there’s a lot of times in the book where she’s obsessed with the book, and he’s kind of like “You put too much emphasis and meaning into that book.” 

Julie: Mm-hmm. 

Janina: And it made me wonder, “Well, why did you [Strane] give it to her in the first place?” Because – I mean, I understood that he gave it to her because he was trying to, in some way – I don’t know, I couldn’t tell if it was he wanted her to know how he felt, or he wanted her to to romanticize it – to romanticize the relationship, so she could then transfer that onto their relationship? 

Julie: Yeah. I know what you mean, though, it’s hard to know exactly what he felt about her, because we’re only getting her perspective and it was so twisted – 

Janina: Right.

Julie: It’s – he’s not really a developed character in this book, he’s just sort of the object of her affection throughout the whole thing.

Janina: Right, right. Yeah, it was – I feel like this book was just very – there were a lot of layers to it, was what I came away with, and I particularly found myself wondering about the people like her friend that she had the falling-out with that knew that Strane was garbage and that he was doing these things. And it made me wonder – were there girls, obviously there were girls that had this relationship with him, but were there girls that he tried to prey on that they were strong enough in themselves, whereas Vanessa was kind of an outsider, so I think he kind of singled her out because of that, because that’s kind of a target’s easy prey is someone who doesn’t fit in, because they make them feel special, but I wonder if there were girls that he tried to prey on and they were like “You’re disgusting. Get away from me” – [that] kind of thing. Because it seemed like pretty much the whole school knew that he was a predator. Is target correct?

Julie: Yeah, I agree with what you’re saying, I think – she was on a scholarship at this Maine boarding school and had no friends the year that this happened to her, which would have been her sophomore year, because she had a falling-out with one of her closest friends the year before – yeah, so there’s just sort of a class divide between her and the rest of the students, which I think if somebody wanted to pick up on that, [they] could easily do so.

Janina: Right, right.

Julie: Yeah, I think that’s probably one of the reasons why he singled her out.

Janina: Yeah. And it’s just unfortunate when you think about something like this and how this does happen to kids and especially – and, like, teenagers – you know, that Vanessa is forced into a situation where she has to learn about things that she should just be kind of experimenting with – 

Julie: Mm-hmm.

Janina: – you know, like having a boyfriend, and kissing – but she’s – but those are all things that are part of development, that are part of, like, learning how to have a relationship with another person, and one where you feel affection for them. And it’s all – it can be a very innocent, first love, true – like true love, first experience – and then you have Strane, who comes in and kind of forces her into this relationship, where she has to deal with very adult things – 

Julie: Mm-hmm.

Janina: – much earlier than she should, and what does that do to a person?

Julie: Yeah. I agree. Probably where a lot of the trauma plays in, that sort of comes throughout her whole life.

Maybe as a wrap-up question I just would want to ask you is, what did you think about Vanessa continuing to maintain that it was consensual, and her continued relationship with Strane?

Janina: I think that she wanted this continued relationship with Strane to be normal. I think that – I think it’s called cognitive dissonance – if she admitted that her relationship with Strane was him abusing her, I think her whole world would have fell down around her. 

Julie: Mm-hmm.

Janina: And by maintaining that she’s the one that did this – that she’s the one that started this – she can tell herself that she is special, that she isn’t just another one of his victims, and that it meant something. I think she needed it to mean something, and I think that she needed to know that she was the special one. I often wondered on his side why he continued the relationship, too, when it was kind of clear, in some instances, that he didn’t care. 

Julie: Right.

Janina: Was it to keep her silent? Or… what was it? And I think that she – and I think that maybe, who knows, maybe if he had stopped the relationship and said “this is over. I don’t want to see you any more,” maybe she would’ve come to the realization sooner. 

Julie: Mm-hmm.

Janina: But he seemed perfectly – he kind of fed into it, still, he still called her and confided in her when he was being accused by other students.

Julie: Yeah, I think you make a good point about him wanting to keep her silent. There’s several instances in the book where she gets a call from him and he’s preemptively telling her that somebody’s gonna contact her about this situation, and she should know what to tell that person, because they have a special relationship, a different relationship that nobody else can understand. 

Janina: Right, right. And then there’s those instances in the book where you can tell that he’s just not attracted to her because she’s older now. It just makes it all the more gross, and disturbing.

Julie: Yeah. That’s the hard part.

So the book ends, we won’t tell you how it ends, but it’s – it made me feel hopeful for Vanessa, that her life would get a bit better, but still sad that she has such a long road to get there, I think it’s – you know, there’s no easy route out of 15 years of trauma.

Janina: Right, right.

Julie: What about you? What’d you think about the ending?

Janina: I thought the ending was kind of realistic. I think that she was in a better place at the end, or at least trying to get there. I think that she actually was starting to “adult” in a way that she hadn’t before. 

Julie: Yeah. I agree.

Janina: Which was the hope that I had wanted throughout the whole thing, you know?

Julie: Mm-hmm.

Janina: It was such a very powerful story to me. And as frustrated as I got, I still enjoyed it because there were so many layers to it – and I think “enjoy” is kind of a strong word, but I think it’s an important book, because there are so many layers to it. Because nothing was really – I mean, it was cut-and-dry that he abused her, but how somebody deals with the fallout of abuse – it’s not a one-size-fits-all; people process it in different ways. And like I mentioned earlier, it made me realize that I can’t fault anybody who’s not at that point in their process of, whatever it is that they’re dealing with, of trying to move forward. Like if they can’t move forward because of this thing that happened to them, instead of saying “Would you just get over it,” or “Would you just do this,” then you have find that place where you’re like, “They’re not ready,” and you have to understand that.

Julie: Yeah, I agree. It definitely taught you a lot about compassion for people in this situation, people going through different things right now, financially, emotionally, socially, whatever. Yeah, I think you can learn a lot about compassion from this book.

Janina: Right, right.

Julie: Just before we wrap up I wanted to just shed light on the controversy that surrounds it – it’s hard to talk about it without talking about the controversy – but, on the heels of American Dirt coming out, which is a book by Jeanine Cummins, who wrote about the migrant experience from the perspective of a Mexican woman and then was given a seven-figure book deal for it, and it was also chosen as one of Oprah’s book club picks. So that was a controversy a couple months ago, and then when this book came out, sort of a similar controversy popped up. There is a Latina author whose named is Wendy C. Ortiz, and she has a memoir called Excavation,which came out in the year 2014, and that got published by a small press, and it tells her story of an abusive relationship with a teacher, also at a private boarding school, so it’s a pretty similar story to the fictional story that’s in this book. So in an essay that Wendy wrote before this book was published, she goes into the difficulties that authors of color have in securing literary agents, and the difficulties that she had fighting the bias in the publishing industry towards writers of color who have a much more difficult time breaking in. So when Kate Elizabeth Russell wrote this book she was also given a seven-figure book deal for it, and it sort of exploded because of the subject matter – although Ortiz’s memoir had been on the scene for six years, although it wasn’t as widely read. So on one side people are accusing Russell of borrowing the experiences of a Latina woman to gain a book deal that Ortiz was never offered, and then on the other side fans of Ortiz are calling for Russell to disclose whether or not she was an actual survivor of sexual abuse, to sort of cement the fact that she didn’t plagiarize her book but it came from her own experience. My Dark Vanessa is a fictional book, but through interviews and just the style of the book itself, it sort of appears that it might be based on Russell’s own experience, but she, for many months she hadn’t said whether or not that was the case – 

Janina: Right. 

Julie: So, in either case, authors who write about subjects like this shouldn’t have to disclose or defend their own experiences with sexual abuse; that just seems pretty obvious to me. And then on the other hand, the publishing industry should also be held accountable for the way they neglect authors of color.

Janina: Yeah.

Julie: So I think both things are true.

Janina: Yeah.

Julie: There’s really no – it’s difficult to be on either side of the controversy, but I think both things that – both sides of the controversy – are true.

Janina: When I first cracked the book open, in the introduction, where she states very adamantly and kind of repetitively that the story was not based on anything that she had experienced – or I think she said maybe that she knew about some things going on – I don’t know, but she very adamantly stated that it was not her. 

Julie: Mm-hmm. 

Janina: That it was not based on a real experience – and by the end of the book, I was like, “Hmm. I wonder.”

Julie: Yeah.

Janina: Because of all of the nuances of Vanessa and of her, for lack of a better word, journey, throughout the book. But yeah, I think that the publishing industry really needs to get on the ball with publishing women of color, or I should say men and women of color. It’s a real problem. 

Julie: Mm-hmm. Yeah, so maybe we could’ve gotten this book in 2014 – or we did get this book in 2014, but you know, if Wendy Ortiz could’ve had the same opportunities that Kate Elizabeth Russell did, it would be different. And I did also read that Kate Elizabeth Russell cites many different books and experiences that she used as research, and Excavation was part of that list.

Janina: Right. 

Julie: So she does acknowledge that she read it, and parts of it were an influence on this book.

Janina: And I mean obviously, these things happen every day – so, I mean, I’m sure it’s still happening, that there’s some teacher out there having a relationship with a student, as gross as it is – but you know, it’s not an uncommon topic.

Julie: Right. Unfortunately. 

Janina: Unfortunately, yes. 

And now I kind of want to read Excavation – I think I want to read that now. We must have it somewhere. 

Julie: Yeah, hopefully. 

Well, thank you so much for discussing this book with me. There’s so – there’s a lot to discuss.

Janina: Yes, thank you for discussing it with me too, because I was dying to discuss it with somebody after. 

Julie: I know, it’s one of those books you read and you just want to talk about it and cry about it.

Janina: Yes. Yeah, right, because there’s a lot of layers to it, and there’s a lot of – there’s a lot of nuance in Vanessa’s reactions to things and how she handles things. 

Julie: Right.

Janina: Yeah. So I really wanted somebody to kind of bounce those things off with. 

Julie: Well, we hope our patrons will check it out just to be more informed about the subject and to read an interesting account of it.

Janina: And one day we will be open again, so you can get it at the library!

Julie: You’ll get a physical copy soon!

Janina: Yes.

Julie: Alright, thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate it. 

Janina: Thank you, Julie.