I first came across the memoir A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer in my life writing seminar at university, and although I never read the book at that time, I finished it this week.
A Child Called It is an abuse memoir, and although I’m relatively new to this genre I can only can assume that it up there with the worst. Violently abused and beaten by his drunken mother from a young age, he is subjected to torment like none other I’d ever heard of, in ways I could never have imagined.
The memoir is not something to read if you are sensitive, and for that reason I don’t wish to give any direct graphic examples of Pelzer’s abuse in this blog (read it yourself).
However, there was a problem with my reading of the text – it just didn’t seem true, and instead seemed highly fabricated. In some ways this was actually a morose kind of relief – as I said the narrative of the abuse is horrific, and to not believe that it actually happened to Pelzer was actually slightly comforting.
I don’t want to outright say that I thought it was a load of lies – if it did happen I’m deeply sorry for Pelzer. However, his family members – including his grandmother and brother – were interviewed and claim that it is all very untrue. While it’s true that they themselves could be lying, I can’t help but side with them due to the (dare I say it) over-the-top, contradicting claims made in the book. Having said this, one of his brothers, Richard, has written his own memoir A Brother’s Journey, which coincides with A Child Called it.
Rather than write the novel sensitively, voicing his apparently horrifically experiences in ways which could support other victims of child abuse or inspire them to speak out, the memoir reads like one great big sensational horror story, complete with suspense, just like you see in the movies.
One of five brothers, David is the only child ever to be abused by the mother in the memoir, whilst his siblings are treated absolutely wonderfully. They do nothing to prevent his abuse, and at some points even join in the violence. His father does not participate, and instead stands by and watches David’s ill treatment at the hands of his wife, only occasionally half-heartedly attempting to ease the suffering of his son. At one point he leaves his wife, yet he does nothing to ‘save’ David – I just cannot believe that this would ever be true, but perhaps I am naive.
His abuse was so violent and horrific, when reading it I failed to see how, at only 7 or 8 years old, he was not dead, particularly when the abuse continued every day as he was starved, beaten, stabbed and poisoned. What makes the claims even more outrageous is the fact that prior to the abuse, the family is described by Pelzer as living in perfect happiness, with his mother doting on him.
The memoir is poorly written, and to put it simply it reads like: today my mother did this to me, then she did that to me, my father did nothing, I was starving, then she did this, I felt awful. It is highly unemotional, and although Pelzer appears to remember every minor detail of his abuse, he cannot remember the eye or hair colour of his abuser, who he was so frequently faced by.
As I said previously, if the memoir is true, I feel completely awful – both for disputing Pelzer’s claims, and because he had to put up with the abuse. The memoir is horrible to read, even if it is not true, and I wouldn’t suggest that you read it if you are highly sensitive or easily upset. However, I have to conclude that I find the story hard to believe, notably due to Pelzer’s attempts to make as much money out of the memoir as possible, even leading him to allegedly purchase many copies himself in order to move it up the best seller’s list. Pelzer could be accused of using the idea of child abuse to make money, as the memoir reads more like a thriller, capturing audience’s attention for reading pleasure, rather than sensitively dealing with the horrors of child abuse.
The debate continues; read the memoir yourself to join.