The Darkness of Someone Else’s Past

Book review: I Will Find You, by Joanna Connors

Journalist Joanna Connors is unbelievably brave, whether she admits it or not. She denies it in her memoir, I Will Find You, but everything she does proves otherwise. At age 30, Connors was raped by a man hanging out in an empty theater where she showed up late for a story she was doing for her job as a journalist at a Cleveland newspaper.

After years of claiming to be “over it” and clearly not being over it, as she suffered emotionally and aftereffects of the rape influenced her marriage and parenting style, she did something extraordinary. “I will find you”, her rapist had threatened after the attack, meaning if she told the police. Years later, she managed to turn those chilling words he menaced her with back onto him: she found him.

She did go to the police, he was caught the next day, and she endured his trial, where he was sentenced to 30-75 years in prison. After that, she avoided confronting the topic, until finally deciding to find him and learn what brought about his choices. “Hurt people hurt”, the saying goes, and she realized that knowing what in his past caused him to hurt her is relevant to her understanding of what occurred, and more importantly, crucial to her ability to finally move beyond it.

Her first discovery is that he, David Francis, is dead. She could’ve given up there, but here’s where more bravery comes in. Like a good reporter, Connors delves into his past, uncovering at least part of the mystery of what drove a man to commit a violent violation of another person.

She locates his family and learns their horror and redemption stories, and some of his stories too. Meaningfully, she connects with other people who also thought that he would be their death. That was one of the most impacting elements of the story to me, when she talks with a robbery victim who also thought that Francis’s would be the last face he saw.

Another interesting aspect is Connors’ awareness of her white privilege. As she confronts the women in Francis’ family, they each confess their own experiences of violation to her (not perpetrated by Francis). They accept the blame themselves: because they were under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, because they put themselves into compromising situations in order to get drugs, or, heartbreakingly, because they’re black and a rapist was white. Connors assures them, like others assured her, they’re not responsible. This was a strange but beautiful therapy, when you consider the connecting thread between these women.

The racial element is an important one in her story, as she struggles to explain why she followed him when he spoke to her. She didn’t want to be the stereotypical racist white lady, she admits, who avoids interacting alone with a black man, even though she had that telltale gut feeling that something wasn’t right. This gets thrown up to her again, during her trial, by the lawyer actually trying to help her – casual victim blaming, why on earth did you go inside? The question of race is so complex, and in her interactions with his family and some exploration of racial and social relations in Cleveland, she tries to make sense of it.

Connors is an incredibly talented writer and storyteller, able to completely draw a reader into her fractured, painful world, her sometimes erratic thought process and often confusing actions. She makes you understand through careful, measured explanations and thoughtful analysis of her own behavior, told in a raw, deeply emotionally engaging style. Aspects of the stories, both her own rape and subsequent unraveling and the sad, truly awful stories of David and his family’s lives, are brutal and painful to read. No way around it. And yet I think it speaks volumes about Connors’ skill, her powerful storytelling, and the messages she’s ultimately trying to convey, that this book turns out to be un-put down-able. It’s an incredibly important and rewarding read.

 I Will Find You: A Reporter Investigates the Life of the Man Who Raped Her
by Joanna Connors
published April 5th, 2016 by Grove Atlantic/Atlantic Monthly Press

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