"When Strane and I met, I was fifteen and he was forty-two, a near perfect thirty years between us. That's how I described the difference back then--perfect. ... At Browick, he said, teacher-student romances were known to happen from time to time, but he'd never had one because, before me, he'd never had the desire. I was the first student who put the thought in his head. There was something about me that made it worth the risk. ... Lurking deep within me, he said, was a dark romanticism, the same kind he saw within himself. No one had ever understood that dark part of him until I came along."
"How cautious he was, first angling his knee against my thigh, such a small thing that could have been an accident, then his hand on my knee. ... It only accelerated after that, once he knew I was ok with it--and isn't that what consent is, always being asked what you want? Did I want him to kiss me? Did I want him to touch me? ... Slowly guided into the fire--why is everyone so scared to admit how good that can feel? To be groomed is to be loved and handled like a precious, delicate thing."
"Into the phone, I mumble, 'I'm needy.' It's the closest I can get to saying what I feel, which isn't horniness, because it isn't really about sex. It's him looking at me, adoring me, telling me what I am and giving me what I need to get through the day-to-day drudgery of pretending I'm like everybody else."
"Sometimes it feels like that's all I'm doing every time I reach out--trying to haunt, to drag him back in time, asking him to tell me again what happened. Make me understand it once and for all. Because I'm still stuck here. I can't move on."
This book takes place in two timelines: in the past when Vanessa first meets Strane and he begins a relationship with her, and in 2017 when she's an adult and new accusations against Strane come to light forcing Vanessa to reassess the truth about her relationship with him. And it's a pretty dark and disturbing history. The graphic bits were especially hard to read.
Strand does a masterful job of manipulating Vanessa for his own personal gratification, making her believe she made him fall in love with her, playing on her emotions to keep her from blaming him, or telling anyone the truth about them, even making her feel like she has to apologize to him any time she questions or confronts him. It's despicable. He's such a horrible person. Even when she's an adult he still has the power to twist and manipulate her.
And Vanessa is so messed up. Her persistence in denying she was abused and in defending Strane made me shake my head in disbelief. I didn't understand why she kept seeking him out over the years, why she continued the relationship long after she left Browick. I wanted her to stand up for herself, call him out on his abuse, make him pay for what he did to her. But she couldn't because then she'd have to label herself a victim and Strane a villain, and for her it wasn't that black and white. I also think she really needed for their story to be a "love story" and not a relationship of abuse and manipulation. She was just so caught up in him. It was sad. I felt so bad for her.
While this novel is well-written, intense and compelling, the subject matter made it a hard one for me to read. Toward the end of the book I reached a point where I didn't want to revisit the past anymore; it was just too depressing. And Strane's actions made me so angry. I would have preferred if the second half of the novel focused on Vanessa in 2017 and her struggle to come to terms with her past, instead of jumping back every other chapter to chronicle still more of her interactions with Strane. It got to be a bit much.
At least I didn't have to read this one alone; Melody read it with me which definitely made it more bearable. So be sure to check out her review and see what she thought about My Dark Vanessa.