Richard Peck Alix Nelson - Essay

Alix Nelson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In "Are You in the House Alone?"] the author's purpose is to show how rape victims are further victimized by society and the law. As a feminist, as the mother of two daughters, and as one who was sexually assaulted at the age of 11, I think all children should be warned and wary; however, I'm not sure it serves a function to do so in melodramatic terms….

Mr. Peck has chosen just such a format, building up a sense of mystery and terror preceding the attack by the use of menacing, obscene phone calls and anonymous threatening notes, and by having the rapist be a psychopath who stalks the girl as she baby-sits alone at night. Although he knocks her unconscious prior to the actual rape—so the event itself is neither experienced directly by the victim or the reader—I wouldn't want my 12-year-old to read this book: The fear that foreshadows the encounter seems far worse than its realization (fear of the dark, of being alone, of being watched at every turn). Nonetheless, my 15-year-old read it, empathized, wept, became incensed at the legal inequities, appreciated the complexity of the issue and its social and medical aftermath, didn't object to the way the deck was stacked to serve the thesis … and found the victim's plight and courage subsequent to the attack edifying and convincing. As for the Hitchcock kind of hysteria that comes before it, she thought that made it more interesting and gave one a reason for turning the page.

My reservation, therefore, should be viewed merely as my own bias, and Mr. Peck ought to be congratulated for connecting with, and raising the consciousness of, his target audience (14 and up) on a subject most people shun.

Alix Nelson, "Ah, Not to Be Sixteen Again," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1976 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 14, 1976, p. 29.∗