Praise Her, Praise Diana, by Anne Rothman-Hicks and Ken Hicks, is a novel some readers may find difficult to read due to the subject matter. Today I’m starting with an extract from the novel, and then, in a twist to my usual interview, Ken and Anne interview themselves about the reason why they wrote the book. (So, take over my blog, why don’t you! :) )
Reviews for Praise Her, Praise Diana have been full of praise. First of all, here’s a five star review from Amazon to give you a taste of the book:
‘This book is hard hitting and graphic, which caused some uncomfortable reading at times and yet the writing needed to be bold in order to do justice to the story and allow the reader to experience the full horror that the victims know. The characters are well thought out, have depth, and develop during the story. Very well written with twists throughout the novel that kept me guessing right until the very last page. This isn’t a book I would usually pick up to read due to the disturbing themes, however I am glad that I did.’
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Extract from Praise Her, Praise Diana
So anyway, I met this guy in a bar near his apartment in New York City. He thought it was by chance—two people locking gazes across a crowded room. I knew better.
It was a dark, dirty place filled with the smell of all the stale beer that had been spilled onto the wooden floor over the course of a half-century or so. When I arrived, his eyes were already bright from several drafts, although he probably would have fought you if you told him he was drunk. He liked to fight. He played rugby just for the fun of hitting people and being hit, and wore his cuts and bruises like trophies.
All the same, he had a surprisingly engaging smile, marred slightly by a cap on one of his front teeth that didn’t quite match the rest. Too bad. His hair was brown and medium length. Slightly tousled, it fell in a cascade over his forehead. His skin was very white, nearly blemish-free, except for a swath of freckles across his nose and cheeks that added to his boyish appearance. You would have liked him at first. I’m sure of that.
He patted the seat next to him at the far end of the bar and bought me a drink. I was wearing a short skirt, high leather boots, and no stockings. A long down jacket was draped over my shoulders like a cape, reaching to the floor. He looked me up and down without apology, weaving this way and that, just a little unsteady on the barstool. He liked what he saw, apparently. With all the beer that had passed his lips that night, he didn’t notice I was wearing a blond wig. I was also wearing my blue contacts. He didn’t notice that either.
He told me a joke about dumb blonds and his hand slapped me on the naked part of my thigh as I pretended to laugh. A minute later, his hand returned to the same spot, tweaking me a little higher up the inside of my leg, like a mischievous child who is sure his antics will be forgiven. I pushed his hand away and he started describing his job and his boss, and I remember thinking, ‘I don’t care about your life, tooth-boy.’ And then there was that hand again, creeping upward along my thigh, and he was chattering away and grinning roguishly at me as though that five-fingered appendage was operating independently of the rest of him, finding its own way in the world.
“What’s with the coat,” he asked me.
I moved my shoulders as if I were shivering.
“I’m cold,” I said, hunching over the bar and pulling my arms together. This had the effect of pressing my breasts upward against the unbuttoned top of my shirt. His eyes were glued to that triangle of soft, inviting flesh. There was no subtlety in him.
“I could warm you up,” tooth-boy said, obviously proud of his wit.
“I’ll bet you could,” I said, and stood up.
The air was cool and the pale clouds of our breath were caught by a light wind and dispersed as we walked down a deserted side street, westward into a neighborhood of small buildings, passing a row of worn brownstone stoops that extended onto the pavement. I had put on my down coat with its neutral unmemorable color, and I now had a similarly nondescript knitted cap pulled low over my ears. I liked the anonymity of it—the sense that a person passing would see just a slightly drunk guy leading a girl to his apartment and that, if anyone were asked, no essential part of me would stand out to be described.
His arm was around my waist, and he leaned against me to steady himself as we walked. At one point he stopped and pulled me to him, kissing me with his open mouth and wet lips and thick rancid beer breath. His left hand pawed at the front of me but couldn’t get past the armor of my coat. “Not here, you animal,” I said to him and he laughed because he thought I was joking.
We lumbered along, trying to match our steps. There was no one on the street but an occasional rat skittering among the garbage cans. Soon we turned up the front stairs to his building and through the dingy foyer with its soiled carpeting and then up one flight where he struggled to get his key in the lock. Here I thought that if I wanted to leave I should do it now. Once I got inside, I knew I would not be able to stop myself. I was already thinking about a certain sunny meadow off a winding backcountry road on a beautiful spring day—the first really warm day of the year—and what was taken from me.
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Anne Rothman-Hicks and Ken Hicks interview
Ken: Whoa! What’s the matter? You have that look in your eyes like the time I used your good shampoo to wash my socks.
Anne: This is serious.
Ken: That was pretty serious, too. But what’s going on.
Anne: Someone said she didn’t want to read PRAISE HER, PRAISE DIANA because she didn’t read “rape stories.”
Anne: How can you say that?
Ken: Technically, all I said was “hmmm.”
Anne: But you implied that she might have some valid basis for that opinion! You’ve read the statistics! The most recent White House study said that 1 in 5 women in the United States have been raped in their lifetime. On any city bus, six, seven, eight women may have been victims!
Anne: That’s nearly 22 million women, Ken! So, what she’s saying is that she won’t read a story that involves 1 in every five women—an issue that could affect her sister, her daughter, or herself. Really?
Ken: Can I say something—
Anne: No! Okay… I guess… But it better not be a joke. If I hear another joke about rape, I’m going to … I don’t know. Something like what happened in our book.
Ken: All I was going to say is that maybe she’s completely sympathetic but she just doesn’t want to read about bad stuff that happens to people.
Anne: Does she read the newspaper? If people don’t read about bad things, how can we hope that bad things will ever get better? We wrote a book that deals with both the incident of rape and the horrors of that crime and of the aftermath—the way it can affect a person for a lifetime. Even women who have not been assaulted are affected by the possibility. Some won’t take walks in lonely places. Or travel alone.
Ken: But aren’t you forgetting all the women who have read PRAISE DIANA, even though they would not ordinarily have chosen a book with this kind of edgy writing. They found themselves thinking about it long afterward. One woman said it was empowering.
Anne: You’re right. A lot of women have taken a chance and were glad they did, even though it “[n]ever tries to pretty up life or misery or loss” as one person put it.”
Ken: Still, if a person just doesn’t want to read something involving sex, isn’t that her right?
Anne: Rape isn’t about sex. You know that. Rape is about power. Thank God, the majority of women will never experience it. But this should not stop them from imagining it so that they can understand. Fiction opens that door. This is why we wrote this book and included the various ways that sexual abuse and sexual harassment can occur.
Ken: I’ll bet many men are not aware of how a woman feels when she is subjected to catcalls just walking down the street. “Smile, Baby. I think you’re pretty. Why aren’t you smiling, Baby?”
Anne: It’s an imposition. A display of power. Women should not have to take that either.
Ken: Judith doesn’t. But don’t you think Judith is a bit on the radical side. Sort of crazy?
Anne: I like Judith. Judith says the things that men should hear. And that women should hear also. Every movement needs a person like Judith.
Ken: I like Judith, too. But I wouldn’t want to get stuck in an elevator with her.
Anne: That would be amusing. I wonder if you could calm her down the way you’ve calmed me down.
Ken: There’s no way to answer that without getting into trouble. This interview is over!
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Thanks for coming and for shaking up my blog with your interview, Ken and Anne. I loved the way you discussed between you the issues raised in your novel. Your extract is powerful and beautifully written, and I can see why you’ve gained such excellent reviews. I look forward to reading Praise Her, Praise Diana, and I admire you for tackling this subject in a way that will hit home to the reader.
How about you? Did you enjoy Ken and Anne’s interview? Would you pick up and read a novel with such a hard-hitting subject, or would you find it an uncomfortable read? If you have any questions or comments at all, I’d love to hear from you.