THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Short takes

By Amanda Heller
Globe Correspondent / January 23, 2011

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CRASH INTO ME: A
Survivor’s Search for Justice

By Liz Seccuro
Bloomsbury, 256 pp., $25

In 2005 Liz Seccuro received a letter that shot a hole through the flawless façade she’d been working like mad to maintain. “In October 1984 I harmed you,” the writer began, declaring himself willing to “set right the wrong I’ve done.” The euphemistic “wrong” he had done was to drug and brutally rape her in a University of Virginia fraternity house when she was a naïve and dewy freshman. The violation was compounded not only by the frat brothers who abetted and — she later realized — joined in the assault, but also by university officials who reflexively closed ranks around the young men.

The passing years couldn’t erase the trauma. But they did change the public perception of rape and raised the consciousness of police and prosecutors. Deciding to stand up for herself as a grown woman as she had not been able to do as a girl, Seccuro challenged her attacker and had him arrested, tried, and ultimately convicted.

“Crash into Me” is not without problems. Seccuro’s judgment is sometimes questionable, her narrative artless. Her goal, however, is not literature but advocacy.

LOSING GRACELAND
By Micah Nathan
Broadway, 224 pp., paperback, $14

Torn up over the death of his father and the defection of his fickle girlfriend, Ben Fish, a recent college graduate just well enough educated to be unemployable, answers an ad seeking a driver for a seven-day road trip. Next thing he knows, he’s at the wheel of a vintage wisteria-on-white Cadillac Eldorado, chauffeuring southward a seedy old recluse who just may be, who almost definitely is, none other than Elvis Presley, alive if not particularly well and living unnoticed in a run-down section of Buffalo.

Thus begins the weirdest of buddy adventures, with feckless Ben playing first mate to the is-he-or-isn’t-he Elvis, a superannuated hillbilly with the unearthly self-possession of a Zen master. En route to points south, the adventurers tangle with a one-eyed pimp, a trio of roadhouse sirens, a backwoods soothsayer, and other low-rent variations on a Homeric theme, while racing to reunite the old man with his renegade granddaughter.

Alas, the antic originality, the near-magic realism of Elvis as a geriatric Ulysses has to haul the dead weight of Ben’s banal adolescent self-pity. “Losing Graceland” may roll from Lake Erie to Mississippi, but it never takes wing.

HALF IN LOVE: Surviving
the Legacy of Suicide

By Linda Gray Sexton
Counterpoint, 336 pp., $25

“Never be a writer,” the doomed poet Anne Sexton used to admonish her daughter Linda. She didn’t say, Linda Gray Sexton recalls ruefully, “never be a suicide.”

As she recounted in her earlier memoir, “Searching for Mercy Street,” and further describes here, Linda Sexton spent her girlhood in thrall to her mother’s madness and artistic charisma, two qualities she conflates to perhaps a greater degree than even her mother’s devotees. Whatever the complicated dynamics of her psychological heritage, madness emerged as a dominant trait. She reveals in detail a nightmare coming true. Having grown to adulthood as a daughter scarred by witnessing her mother’s disintegration and suicide attempts, she finds herself visiting the same horror on her own children.

Anne Sexton’s final book of verse, completed just before she killed herself in 1974, is called “The Awful Rowing Toward God.” Not a single sentence in this sizable memoir presents nearly as indelible an image. Yet in a more substantial sense, Linda Sexton eventually achieved what her mother could not, an escape from the riptide of depression. She’s still learning to take unambiguous satisfaction from that.

Amanda Heller, a critic and editor who lives in Newton, can be reached at ahellerst@gmail.com.