What it reveals about Donald Trump is extremely important, of course, but it shouldn’t drown out the fact that the excerpt from E. Jean Carroll’s book is a pretty extraordinary piece of writing in its own right. Lili Loofbourow explains why:
Reading E. Jean Carroll’s account in the Cut of her 21 “Hideous Men”—packed as it is with details about Girl Scout knives and cheerleading and jokes and echoes of David Foster Wallace’s story collection of a similar name—it occurred to me that in the contest to be heard and believed, #MeToo allegations were always bound to become literature. They had to. The vehicle through which these incidents are reported would at some point adapt in order to address the formal impossibilities of the things it’s asked to do. Carroll’s essay is just such an expansion. What she produces, instead of a direct account of what was done and by whom, is an arch and experimental essay that keeps nodding at readerly expectations and deciding not to meet them.
Carroll’s piece, an excerpt from her upcoming book, What Do We Need Men For?, is filled with jokes—not just because a writer like Carroll has joked liberally throughout her career as an advice columnist, but also, perhaps, because jokes are how a lot of people deal with trauma. It abounds in incompletions and uncertainties—maybe because that’s how people remember an attack, partially, with certain details writ large and others missing. It replicates the limited perspective in which survivors, too, live their lives. When you’re joking around with a real estate magnate, you’re probably not taking a careful inventory of the layout of that floor of Bergdorf’s. When you’re a kid and a boy penetrates you with an object (a stick or a rock, you don’t remember) then stuffs a cloth of some kind down your underpants to absorb the blood, it might not occur to you until many, many years later that this is what was repeatedly done to him. No one is omniscient, not even about their own sexual assault, and the essayistic approach expresses the confusion—what was that piece of fabric about?—in ways news stories can’t and won’t. Carroll’s response to America’s lax reaction to the 22 women who accused Donald Trump of assault before her was to do things differently. Rather than go straight to the news, she wrote the thing herself. In so doing, she forces the reader to acknowledge her first and foremost—her humor and her boy-craziness and her flaws, but also her centrality, her life experience, and her fame. And presents her story without any trace of self-pity.
Both whole things are worth etc.
Among the more remarkable things in Carroll’s essay is that Hunter S. Thompson is every bit as colossal a misogynist asshole as you would expect…and doesn’t make her top 21. Donald Trump becoming president was just another Tuesday in America.