December 17, 2015: from Laura Truffaut to the author.
Published by permission.
I finished The Broken Places last week; the reading truly resonated with me. The second half especially is so vivid and fast-paced. I imagine that your original screenplay [which her father, François Truffaut, read] had necessarily much less backstory on your own character and on the oppressive dimensions of your own upbringing, and focused more on your love story and on the character of Kathy. Within the framework of the memoir, the reader gets a strong sense of who you were as a child and teenager and of the places — home, school, town, hospital — which you inhabited.
The Broken Places reminded me of Elia Kazan’s Splendor in the Grass, whose protagonists are crushed by a heavy sense of moral duty that stands in the way of happiness and of sanity, really — so much like the set of values that the era imposed on yourself and Kathy. In both stories, I am left with a sense of overwhelming injustice in a world where to be young is to be constantly guilty, or made to feel so. At the same time, I also got a sense of great freedom from your description of your long hospitalization, which runs against the grain of the reader’s assumptions with such narratives. It’s as though Kathy brought color and vividness to the world that she and you inhabited together, and the last third of the book felt especially intense and dramatic.
The long letter which you include from your parents’ acquaintance is truly powerful. One has the impression that it played a larger role in your life than any psychiatrist ever could. It reads like a rope thrown to a drowning man, and of course like the sensitive parenting advice you were not going to find at home. At the same time you depict your father with real humanity, I thought.
(Incidentally, my father’s father wrote a book on his mountain-climbing expeditions in the early ’50s, in which my father makes a cameo appearance as the stereotypical adolescent boy of the times, spewing only teenage slang as he reads the manuscript over his father’s shoulder, this at a time when my father had long since been emancipated from his parents and found his own way in the world. Something else you both shared: an imaginative father who was not above creating an improved family life for public consumption!)
I happened to see Spotlight right when I was reading your memoir, and in a way, the two works echoed each other — not in terms of the specific patterns of abuse revealed by the Boston Globe, of course, but in the way in which both stories deal with the enormous, inescapable power of religious authorities and their direct involvement in the heart of families. In the case of your memoir, I am reminded of how tricky nostalgia can be, how erroneous our perception that the past was an easier time, an era bathed in soft-focus.
Thank you so much for sending me The Broken Places. It tells such a haunting story, and I don’t doubt that all of its readers will be affected by it.