When I put this image and quote together, I thought this would be an easy post to write. It was something 17-year-old me would have loved, which is appropriate since Grace Marks was 17 when she was tried and convicted of murder. So without giving it much thought I began writing about how I would have loved a poster like this to hang next to my mirror, how I would have related to the dark balloon for a head threatening to float away, taking my mind with it. The “all” who would be hanged for the thoughts were my people.
It was cathartic, actually, writing about this period of life, and how on the inside I was depressed and feeling very dramatic over having to grow up and deal (or not deal as the case may be) with real life stuff. My alcoholic father was in the end stages of dying as I was heading off to college. I pretended to myself I was all tough and I rocked a rough 90’s goth vibe, internally… my outer appearance remained one that comforted my mother, a wholesome girl-next-door look, nicely tanned from a summer lifeguarding and braces flashing through my nervous smile. My relationship with myself was clearly even more fractured than the one with my father.
“If I am good enough and quiet enough, perhaps after all they will let me go; but it’s not easy being quiet and good, it’s like hanging on to the edge of a bridge when you’ve already fallen over; you don’t seem to be moving, just dangling there, and yet it is taking all your strength.”
― Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace
As interesting as this was for me, as my self-imposed deadline for this post came and went I was increasingly uncomfortable comparing my white middle class teenage angst with Grace Mark’s world as an Irish immigrant in the 1840s. Though my cover photo is bravely declaring we’re not on trial for our thoughts, my writing was blocked by good ol’ fashioned self-criticism. Perhaps I had let too much of my 17-year-old self out on the page!
Unlike my potentially bright future, Grace’s best case scenario was being a servant in a household where she wasn’t abused much. But instead Grace is imprisoned for murder. She was invisible because of class and gender, then infamous for a crime. She wasn’t hanged, but only because the jury was convinced she was crazy or an imbecile.
“I think of all the things that have been written about me – that I am inhuman female demon, that I am an innocent victim of a blackguard forced against my will and in danger of my own life, that I was too ignorant to know how to act…”
—Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace
The most interesting thing about this book for me is Atwood’s ability to let us empathize with Grace without ever finding out if she killed her employers or not. The facts of the historical case aren’t changed but the gaps have been filled in with fiction. In getting to know Grace, in her daily life and through her story which may or may not be reliable but is still telling, we relate to her. She can’t be purely labeled innocent or guilty, mad or sane. She is complex and human.
Finally it’s impossible to write about Alias Grace without admitting that of course I was inspired by noticing that Netflix had released a series under the same title.
“It’s tempting to think of this series, like “The Handmaid’s Tale,” as especially timely, with today’s revelations of sexual abuse in places of power. But to say that would suggest that there have been moments when these ideas would not be timely.”
–James Poniewozik, New York Times
This is what I’d like to say to 17-year-old me while giving her that poster she would have loved: eventually you will be someone you love, and you’ll be able to see there are people in the world that need your help. You’ll play drums, you’ll secretly write erotic poetry, you’ll get the counseling you need, you’ll feel better, you’ll find your self-esteem, your work will help people… trust me, by the time you’re 40 you’ll even like how your ass looks in that swim suit.