"I Want to Write a Book that I Think No One Will Want to Read:" An Interview with Rachel Louise Snyder by LaVonne Roberts

You can find LaVonne’s review of No Visible Bruises here.

Rachel Louise Snyder is a journalist and professor of creative writing at American University. The author of No Visible Bruises—winner of the prestigious 2018 Lukas Work-in-Progress Award from the Columbia School of Journalism and Harvard’s Nieman Foundation—and Fugitive Denim: A Moving Story of People and Pants in the Borderless World of Global Trade. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The
New York Times Magazine, Slate, Salon, The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the New Republic. Originally from Chicago, she currently lives in Washington, DC.


LaVonne Roberts: While reading your book, I kept thinking about how the #MeToo movement
has united women in supporting each other more vocally. I loved that you brought attention to Martina Latessa and what a difference it makes having a female officer working with victims. What can we do to make sure there are more women like Martina out there helping female survivors?

Rachel Louise Snyder: It’s not just that Martina is a woman; it’s also that she meets victims where they are most comfortable — in their own homes or spaces. This is psychologically so important to gain trust. Of course, I also think we should send Martina overseas to wherever they’re doing the most advanced cloning! She is a singular force. The DV homicide rates in the Cleveland districts where she operates have gone down since her pilot project began, incidentally. But you mention the #MeToo movement, and I’m so glad because, to me, the #MeToo movement offers a roadmap for how to share our stories without judgment or shame. There is so much shame to being a victim of DV, and a lot of that comes from cultural messages we all receive about DV as a priority for law enforcement and judiciary, or DV as a circumstance because someones’ made a wrong choice. #MeToo got us all sharing our stories in such a powerful way, and that needs to happen in the context of domestic violence next.

LR: I also can’t help but think that we, as women, can do more to support any silenced woman to find her voice and achieve self-agency. What are your thoughts?

RLS: Partly what I said above about #MeToo. I think we have to recognize that DV carries so much shame, still, and we need to make the space to listen without judgment. It might take a very long time for someone to disclose… months, maybe longer. At the same time, people in community leadership positions should do more to be outspoken about it, to say they operate in safe spaces. I mean here, for example, clergy. Many more victims will go to clergy than will go to a DV advocate. Or neighborhood groups. All of these are places where we can speak out, share information and resources, etc.

LR: You write about studying fiction in graduate school and then gravitating to nonfiction because you understood it to be a more direct source of change. Based on book sales, media coverage, and The National Book Circle’s nomination, you’ve brought a lot of attention to domestic violence. Any changes you’d like to see that haven’t happened yet?

RLS: Oh my god, SO MANY! We need to get VAWA signed. We need to do much more comprehensive programming in middle and high schools (shout out to One Love Foundation for all the great work they do with this age group). We need to put more resources into batterer’s intervention, so we learn what works and what doesn’t. I think we should have the National DV Hotline phone number on every package of pads and tampons in this country. I think we should have interactive teen dating apps where kids could post questions anonymously and get answers in real-time. I think we should have
sponsors for abusers who graduate from batterer’s programs in the same way that A.A. has sponsors. I think we should have an abusers hotline in the same way we have a suicide hotline. I think we need to be able to hold abusers pre-trial if they are particularly dangerous. I think prosecutors need to do more evidence-based prosecution. I believe our self-defense laws need to be adjusted to take gender, physical
ability, and strength into consideration. I think restorative justice and gender inequality education need to be front and center of any batterer’s intervention. Can I go on? Yeah…my background is in fiction, which turned out to be really lucky because my task was: I want to write a book that I think no one will want to read. So how can I write a book that covers an unpleasant topic, but yet is so compelling you can’t put it down. That was my charge.

“My background is in fiction, which turned out to be really lucky because my task was: I want to write a book that I think no one will want to read. So how can I write a book that covers an unpleasant topic, but yet is so compelling you can’t put it down. That was my charge.

LR: I remember a visit with a female psychiatrist when I confided that a woman in my writing program in a shelter for victims of violence had returned to her abuser. She responded, “I don’t buy it. Why would any woman stay.” I kept thinking—she’s a mental health practitioner. She’s a woman. If she
doesn’t get it, how will anyone? As you wrote—”the question isn’t a matter of leaving or staying. It’s a matter of living or dying.” In so many instances, you point out that “we mistake what we see from the outside as [a victim] deciding to stay with an abuser, when in fact we who don’t realize what a victim who is slowly and carefully leaving look like.” Your book helped me rethink how I’ll answer that question in the future. Does your book speak to someone in an abusive relationship as much as someone who doesn’t understand domestic violence? Was that your goal?

RLS: Totally. It is validating. Remember that the goal of emotional abuse is to destabilize someone emotionally and psychologically. Abusers will say it’s all the victim’s fault, and at some point, that message sinks deeply into a victim. My book tells them they’re not crazy, and they’re not wrong. The choices they’re making absolutely make sense in the context in which they’re living. It’s been stunning to me how many victims have gotten in touch with me and told me their stories. At the same time, police need to read it, and judges, and family members and politicians.

LR: It is well known in the domestic violence world that most survivors leave seven or more times before they can achieve self-agency, free from their abusive partners “Leaving is never an event; it’s a process,” stood out to me. As you know, it’s acutely painful to watch a person return to an abusive
partner, especially when there are children involved. What can we do to be supportive when people we love make compromised decisions?

RLS: I think the first thing is to realize the decisions might not be compromised at all. There might be real barriers to their leaving. And those barriers — even if they’re emotional or psychological — are every bit as powerful as, say, economic barriers. This is what I mean when I say open up the space to share without judgment. The phrasing of the question carries an inherent judgment.

LR: One critic suggested that your book doesn’t fully represent marginalized communities, so I want to ask if you feel that your book is inclusive of all identities experiencing or associated with domestic violence?

RLS: I’ve gotten that a lot and it makes me realize just how much we see the world through the white gaze. There are a TON of people in my book who had their identities and names changed for various reasons of protection. Those protective measures also include race. Michelle and Rocky, obviously, are white. Still, one of the primary narratives is a person of color who, through my careful use of a very white-sounding pseudonym, has their identity entirely hidden. At the same time, native communities and immigrant communities and other communities of color D.O. face unique challenges that white communities often don’t face. I am fully aware of that, but this is really the first narrative reportage book on domestic violence. You can’t cover everything. You have to make decisions. I also don’t talk about the crisis in our family courts today. And I don’t spend much time on kids who grow up in abusive homes. There’s a lot that I don’t include, and I hope my book is just the first of many more to
follow by others.


Buy this book: Amazon / Indiebound

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