"Have you ever read Lolita?"
So begins seventeen-year-old Alisson's metamorphosis from student to lover and then victim. A lonely and vulnerable high school senior, Alisson finds solace only in her writing and in a young, charismatic English teacher, Mr. North. He praises her as a special and gifted writer, and she blossoms under his support and his vision for her future.
Mr. North gives Alisson a copy of Lolita to read, telling her it is a beautiful story about love. The book soon becomes the backdrop to a relationship that blooms from a simple crush into a forbidden romance, with Mr. North convincing her that theirs is a love affair rivalled only by Nabokov's masterpiece. But as time progresses and his hold on her tightens, Alisson is forced to evaluate how much of that narrative is actually a disturbing fiction.
In the wake of what becomes a deeply abusive relationship, Alisson is faced again and again with the story of her past, from re-reading Lolita in college, to working with teenage girls, to becoming a professor of creative writing. It is only with that distance and perspective that she understands the ultimate power language has had on her and how to harness that power to tell her own true story.
Being Lolita is a stunning coming-of-age memoir of obsession, passion and manipulation, shining a bright light on our shifting perceptions of consent, vulnerability and power. This is the story of what happens when a young woman realises her entire narrative must be rewritten and then takes back the pen to rewrite it.
Wood debuts with a unflinching account of her high school affair with a teacher. After introducing her to Nabokov's masterwork of lechery ("he told me it was a beautiful story about love"), "Mr. North" (whose name has been changed) reveals himself as a manipulative predator. Twenty-six when he meets 17-year-old Wood, North grooms the already fragile and troubled teen, moving from inquiries about her writing into inappropriate forays (such as passing notes guessing her bra size and revealing that of his penis). In an effort to create "plausible deniability" as their relationship becomes physical, North pushes Wood to date schoolmates while still stringing her along with promises of undying love and marriage after she graduates. "It seems as if no matter how active or passive a girl is, she is still doomed," she muses. Wood later re-examines Lolita (and the power dynamics with North) in a college class, then while working with at-risk teenagers, and again after she suffers a sexual assault. "I began to question my memory, my very self," she writes, and, now, upon viewing photographs of herself as a teenager when she'd felt "the most sexy and seductive," she sees a lost child. Wood's potent memoir doubles as a cautionary tale that indicts literary and social tropes of irresistible, sexualized youths . It's an impressive, provocative outing.