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Books In Brief | Kate Tuttle

Reporting on crises: personal and historical

I Will Find You:

A Reporter Investigates the Life of the Man Who Raped Her

By Joanna Connors

Grove Atlantic, 272 pp., $25

A fledgling newspaper reporter, Joanna Connors had arrived at a dark and empty theater, late for an interview. Her sources had already left; a man who was there said he was working on the lights. When she stepped to the stage, he raped her. After, alone in the emergency room, she recalls how, “[i]n the silent, chilled room, naked under the gown, I feel like a forgotten corpse, awaiting my own autopsy.” Connors survived — already married, she went on to have two children, and she remained a reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer — but the rape continued to haunt her, not always in ways she could identify, for decades. It wasn’t until her own children were grown and in college that she returned to it, this time to write about it.

The result is “I Will Find You,” a book that is at once deeply humane and harrowing. Connors not only describes the vivid horror of her assault by the man she later learns is named David Francis; she also investigates Francis’s background and family, finding a multigenerational legacy of pain and violence. Talking with some of his sisters — strong women who tell of their family’s history of child abuse, drug addiction, and prostitution — Connors wonders, “How far back do you have to go to find the origin story of a monster?” Francis died in prison 16 years after being convicted of raping Connors. She is the first person to ask to visit his grave. “I did not deserve what happened to me,” Connors writes. “And David Francis did not deserve what happened to him.”


Life, Reimagined:


The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife

By Barbara Bradley Hagerty

Riverhead, 464 pp., $28

After a fainting spell led to a heart attack scare when she was just 53, NPR reporter Barbara Bradley Hagerty began pondering life stages. She wondered, is there really such a thing as a midlife crisis? Why do graphs of happiness show such a consistent dip as we enter our 40s and 50s? What is it that makes some people feel, despite external challenges, that “midlife is about renewal, not crisis”? Envisioning the book as “a personal march through the science of midlife,” the author interviewed neuroscientists, sociologists, and career counselors, and gamely underwent tests of mental acuity, emotional connection, and physical strength (this last one backfired, to some extent, when she took a bad spill training for a bicycle race, breaking her collarbone).

Some of these investigations read like memoir, others like the kind of reporting — big ideas viewed through their impact on individuals, stories told in a warm, friendly voice — for which NPR is known. The result can feel a bit mild; Bradley Hagerty isn’t out to blow your mind like the latest TED talker, but rather to gently remind us of things we once may have known. “Life is long,” she writes. “Neither childhood nor midlife is destiny.” A longitudinal study of the Harvard class of 1939 found lives that unfolded in all kinds of ways, but its longtime director boiled its message down to five words: “Happiness is love. Full stop.”


Melancholy Accidents:

Three Centuries of Stray Bullets and Bad Luck

By Peter Manseau

Melville House, 240 pp., illustrated, $22.95

“This Morning a melancholy Accident happen’d; a Dutchman carelessly handling a Gun, it went off, and shot a Girl about 13 Years old thro’ the Heart, and she instantly expired.” In this brief 1754 account from a Philadelphia newspaper the words “melancholy accident” already sound like a cliché. As Peter Manseau makes clear, even before the Revolution we were already a nation accustomed to accidentally shooting ourselves and each other.

A fellow at the Smithsonian and author of several books of cultural history, Manseau found the articles in Colonial newspapers while researching another project. Many describe children shooting themselves, each other, their parents — what today we would write about on Twitter using the hashtag #GunFail. Some of these snippets (which span 1739 to 1916) are horrific, others darkly comic — until you reflect on the loss of life. “Collectively,” Manseau writes, “they tell a little-considered part of the history of a people perhaps uniquely tied to a particular piece of technology.” They can be read as a cautionary tale, he adds, about “the risks we choose to live with.”


Kate Tuttle, a writer and editor, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.