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Never have heroes


It’s not news that being a great artist has nothing to do with being a good person, but I find this revelation particularly sad:

In 1992, Andrea Robin Skinner wrote her mother, Alice Munro, a letter that opened with a warning.

“Dear Mom,” it began. “Please find a spot alone before you read this … I have been keeping a terrible secret for 16 years, Gerry abused me sexually when I was nine years old. I have been afraid all my life that you would blame me for what happened.”

Munro’s youngest daughter, then 25, knew her words would devastate her mother, already established as one of Canada’s greatest writers for her award-winning short stories. Gerry was Gerald Fremlin, the love of Alice Munro’s life, her second husband and Andrea’s stepfather. The letter, Andrea imagined, would change everything.

Instead, the secret that had haunted the Munro family for years would continue to do so for decades more. It remained hidden after Alice Munro received her daughter’s letter, and left it for Fremlin to find. It remained hidden after Fremlin wrote letters of his own that would go on to incriminate him in a court of law, where he was convicted of indecent assault in 2005. It remained hidden after Fremlin died in 2013, still married to Alice, and after Alice Munro died this year.

Now, as they mourn their mother — the literary giant and Nobel laureate — Andrea and her siblings are no longer willing to stay silent. They want the world to continue to adore Alice Munro’s work. They also feel compelled to share what it meant to grow up in her shadow and how protecting her legacy came at a devastating cost for her daughter. The truth, they hope, will bring them healing and empower other victims of sexual assault and their families.

Munro, to be blunt, chose her abusive partner over the daughter her partner abused — they were still estranged when Munro died this year. Very depressing.

This is also another reminder to never, ever leave someone who thinks Humbert Humbert is a reliable narrator alone with children:

“I started to think that Andrea was interested in me sexually, and in consequence got an erection,” Gerry wrote. “I pushed the covers back and let the erection show and fondled it. I felt sure she was watching but didn’t look to see,” Gerry wrote. He characterized nine-year-old Andrea as a Lolita, who must have been aware of her impact on him.

“While the scene is degenerate, this is indeed Lolita and Humbert,” he wrote, referring to Vladimir Nabokov’s novel. “It is my contention that Andrea invaded my bedroom for sexual adventure.”

I have no further words.

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