Debut novel a harrowing look at rape’s painful aftermath
Amber Tamblyn has already had a more varied career than most people twice her age.
Perhaps best known for her roles in "Joan of Arcadia," "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" and "House," the 35-year-old actress also has published three books of poetry and directed a feature film, "Paint It Black" in 2016. Her nonpaying jobs include activist and parent, a responsibility she shares with her husband, comedian David Cross, an Atlanta native.
Now Tamblyn has added novelist to her resume, and like everything the Brooklyn-based quadruple threat does, it is edgy, original and thought provoking. She gives a reading at A Cappella Books in Atlanta on Aug. 11.
The idea of a female antagonist without redemption was Tamblyn’s inspiration for the novel.
“Usually a female antagonist has to have some sort of redeeming quality. There’s a reason for their behavior. They were raped. They were abused,” said Tamblyn. “I wanted something that was mythological. I wanted to see what a truly sociopathic woman would look like, what her reign of terror would cover.”
Tamblyn’s villain is no ordinary offender. Each of her attacks is unique and orchestrated to inflict optimum pain and humiliation. Immersing herself in such dark material required Tamblyn to take “lots of breaks” during the writing process, she said. In addition to being pregnant while writing the novel, she endured real pain of her own when she developed carpal tunnel syndrome and de Quervain’s syndrome, a painful inflammation of the wrist.
“I ended up taking a six-month break, but I built it in detail in my head before I wrote it,” she said.
One of the book’s most powerful chapters is a 13-page Twitterstorm that occurs after a television talk show broadcasts a sensational segment on the crimes. Everyone in the zeitgeist weighs in, from Katy Perry to Roxane Gay to Sean Hannity to BuzzFeed.
“I wanted to see what the permanence of that type of language would look like on the page, what would it be like for the reader if they couldn’t just scroll past it,” said Tamblyn. “All of the (victims’) stories are being told in first person. I wanted a section where everyone is telling a person’s story except that person.”
The exchange skewers the flippant and self-serving ways social media mines private tragedies, and it builds to a hilarious high before ending with a shocking punch to the gut. “Even if we think we’re helping, sometimes we’re not helping,” Tamblyn said. “We’re all on a certain level complacent and complicit at the same time.”
“Any Man” dwells on the aftermath of the rapes and how the victims are tormented not only by what happened to them, but by a disinterested society that only pays attention to the most prurient details.
“I think one of the biggest issues with stories of sexual assault is people don’t think about the secondary violence, the things that come after the fact,” said Tamblyn. “The not being believed, the not being able to get someone prosecuted, the way there’s no health care to deal with self-care, to help people to deal with their own pain.”
And therein lies the thing that Tamblyn seems most passionate about as both a writer and an activist.
Even before the #metoo movement took off last year, Tamblyn made headlines for accusing actor James Woods on Twitter of trying to pick her up at a diner when she was 16. When he publicly denied her accusation, she called him a "silencer," and it is that act of trying to silence those who expose sexual misconduct that seems to fuel her ire most.
Although she flips the script by making men the victims in “Any Man,” the novel is a continuation of Tamblyn’s rallying cry for giving victims a voice.
Amber Tamblyn. 2 p.m. Aug. 11. Free. A Cappella Books, 208 Haralson Ave. NE, Atlanta. acappellabooks.com. For a signed book, order in advance from the website.