Let us count (some of) the ways: We should have just said it from the start—judged by any normal standard, the text in question, however well written, is a major hot mess.
For the record, the text to which we refer is the new memoir about an act which a jury unanimously found to have been a sexual assault. It's natural to seek to give deference to the author of such a memoir—to the victim of that assault.
It's natural to do that. But in the end, this keeps us from seeing the problem with that person's text. Much more significantly, it keeps us from marveling at the way this text has been reviewed by our upper-end news organs.
What's wrong with Chanel Miller's text? Let's us count a few of the major ways this text, if judged by normal standards, would qualify as a startling fail:
She doesn't know what happened: The problem starts with a basic fact—a basic fact which Miller never begins to acknowledge:
Because she was, by her own account, "blackout drunk" on the evening in question, Miller doesn't actually know what happened on that unfortunate night.
Brock Turner says that Miller agreed to leave the frat party with him. He says they agreed to go to his dorm room, each of them very drunk.
He says she consented to sexual conduct once they got outside. He says that he, being drunk himself, didn't realize that she was too drunk to give consent.
We have no way of knowing if those statements are true. But Miller, who was blackout drunk, also doesn't know what she said and did, and she never begins to come to terms with this basic fact.
Using her obvious talent as a writer, she constantly advances the impression that she didn't do and say the things described by Turner. In fact, she doesn't know if his statements are false. She simply keeps suggesting they are, often in ways which are remarkably fraught.
She respects no other viewpoints: Has any author ever shown so little ability to respect the plausible viewpoints of others? Throughout the book, Miller directs fury and contempt at everyone who doesn't instantly voice agreement with her viewpoint of the moment.
She assails the (bald) male judge, whose sentence was too lenient. She assails the (female) probation officer who recommended the sentence the bald male judge imposed.
(She also misparaphrases this female probation officer in an invidious manner. We know this because we took Miller's advice and read the actual probation report, comparing it to the baldly unbalanced account offered in Miller's book.)
She assails the defense attorney when he engages in the most obvious types of courtroom behavior during Turner's trial. She confronts us with images of her own victimization when these obvious bits of behavior occur. (Examples below.)
She ridicules the academic who appears as an expert witness on blackout drunkenness. She assails the character witnesses who testify on Turner's behalf during the sentencing hearing. She assails Turner's family members, angrily denouncing his father when he doesn't apologize to her on behalf of his son during this hearing.
She assails the Washington Post, citing an article whose contents she flagrantly misrepresents. She assails the Stanford rep who offers her $150,000 to pay for her therapy and for the therapy of her sister (!). She gives this rep a mocking nickname, even after her family's Stanford professor friend tells her the rep in sincere.
Regarding Turner's family and friends, she shows no sign of understanding an obvious fact—they may believe Turner's account of what occurred that night, an account she herself is in no position to contradict.
They may believe him when he says that Miller agreed to go to his room and consented to sexual activity when they got outdoors. They may believe him when he says he didn't realize that she was impaired.
We don't know if his claims are true, but Miller doesn't know either. But she's never able to put herself in the place of these others, to imagine what they might understandably think and feel.
Advertisements for self: Miller's book starts with a lengthy advertisement for self. It's presented as a chronicle of her alleged shyness, but it also positions her as the world's most thoughtful person.
These advertisements continue throughout the book. Speaking about her "baby sister," she offers this at one point:
"One time she became ill on a plane, lurching forward, and I held out my hands to catch her vomit before it could hit her lap."
Who knows—that could even be true! Other examples are offered.
Starting in her Introduction, these self-descriptions sometimes take the form of noble claims that she's only trying to help Brock—that she doesn't want him or the judge or anyone else getting hurt. These claims are hard to reconcile with the overt hostility aimed at all comers throughout the course of the book.
We could go on and on with this recitation. Miller's flippant attitude about her own drunkenness is often striking, but she never accepts a fairly obvious supposition—except for her own massive drunkenness that night, there is no reason to think that any serious misconduct ever would have occurred.
It isn't wise to get so drunk that you first become "blackout drunk," then lapse into unconsciouness. This is a blindingly obvious fact, but Miller is never willing to acknowledge even that.
Then again, neither have the increasingly ridiculous voices of our own liberal world. As the complications of our world has increasingly become "this now too much for us," we have increasingly turned to the realm of the novel, the fable, the fairy tale to let us "be whole again beyond confusion."
We simply discard the unwanted facts which make our experiences complex. We end up with a bald male judge who is outrageously sexist. In most cases, we disappear the two female probation officers whose recommendation he followed.
This is the way our tiny minds work. It's known as (intellectual) death by novel. It's being practiced by our tribe and by our increasingly hapless upper-class news organs.
ALSO THIS—Almost burned at the stake: Again and again and again and again, Miller is surprised by the way our legal system works. In one striking example, she writhes in pain as Turner's defense attorney and the judge engage in what seems to be the most obvious courtroom conduct.
In this sequence (see pages 165 and 166), Miller describes three incidents in which her statements on the witness stand are struck down as hearsay. The objections by the defense attorney seem completely obvious, as do the judge's rulings.
That said, Miller betrays no understanding of this fact. Instead, she paints herself, in overwrought ways, as a victim of physical violence as these rather obvious objections are sustained.
In the first instance, she writes that she was "struck silent" by the judge's ruling. After the defense attorney's third objection, she says "the interruptions felt like being hit."
In her somewhat peculiar Introduction, Miller tells us that she will only be telling us how various incidents felt. This is her account of how it felt after the second of these rulings:
MILLER (page 165): Defense: Objection. Move to strike. Hearsay.That may be the way "it felt." But as an account of what really occurred, that can only be called a strikingly subjective fail.
I was suddenly aware of the defense's palm wrapped firmly across the top of my head, holding me underwater, saying, Don't you come up again.
It may not be surprising that an assault victim would write a book like this. But our major news orgs have cheered her on, as we'll note tomorrow with reference to a passage from The New Yorker.
Their conduct follows a decades-long pattern. Anthropologists, in the future, are calling this death by fable.