For readers of Educated and The Glass Castle, a harrowing, redemptive and profoundly inspiring memoir of childhood trauma and its long reach into adulthood, named one of the Best True Crime Books by Marie Claire.
One Omaha winter day in November 1978, when Debora Harding was just fourteen, she was abducted at knifepoint from a church parking lot. She was thrown into a van, assaulted, held for ransom, and then left to die as an ice storm descended over the city.
Debora survived. She identified her attacker to the police and then returned to her teenage life in a dysfunctional home where she was expected to simply move on. Denial became the family coping strategy offered by her fun-loving, conflicted father and her cruelly resentful mother.
It wasn't until decades later - when beset by the symptoms of PTSD- that Debora undertook a radical project: she met her childhood attacker face-to-face in prison and began to reconsider and reimagine his complex story. This was a quest for the truth that would threaten the lie at the heart of her family and with it the sacred bond that once saved her.
Dexterously shifting between the past and present, Debora Harding untangles the incident of her kidnapping and escape from unexpected angles, offering a vivid, intimate portrait of one family's disintegration in the 1970s Midwest.
Written with dark humor and the pacing of a thriller, Dancing with the Octopus is a literary tour de force and a groundbreaking narrative of reckoning, recovery, and the inexhaustible strength it takes to survive.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Fourteen-year-old Debora Harding was on her way to choir practice when she was kidnapped, raped, and left for dead—and that’s not the worst part of this intense memoir. Her own dysfunctional and abusive mother emerges as a villain no less horrific than her attacker. In unflinching, eloquent prose, Harding switches between past and present, reflecting on her assault, the shocking and strange violence her mother inflicted on her and her siblings, and the inevitable scars of these traumas. We were blown away by her fearlessness—she explores her conflicted relationship with the loving father who failed to protect her and describes meeting her abductor in prison face to face. And somehow, between all the terrible memories, Harding manages to find blessed moments of hope, humor, and light. While there’s no big happy resolution to a story like hers, Dancing with the Octopus offers an invaluable portrait of trauma, healing, and the power of believing in yourself.
In this intense debut memoir, Harding writes of the aftermath of a traumatic experience as a teenager. In 1978, at age 14, she was abducted from a church across the street from her Omaha school by a ski-masked stranger, 17-year-old Charles Goodwin. He rapes her and demands ransom from her parents before tying her up and leaving her near a set of train tracks. Goodwin, who had a criminal record and served in juvenile detention, was far from Harding's only source of trauma, though. Harding recounts heartbreaking tales of her abusive, mentally ill mother, who locked her and her sisters in an unheated garage during the winter as punishment for minor offenses. "They say with severe crimes there's no avoiding the aftermath," Harding writes. "What they don't say is how post-traumatic stress can become a disorder because of your childhood family, the one you're trying to survive." Even as she fears for her own mental state, struggles with PTSD, and loses her father to suicide, Harding breaks the cycle of abuse taught to her by her dysfunctional family, and she is now happily in a healthy relationship. This moving story of grit and resilience will resonate with readers long after the final page is turned.
That is all.