During a Virtual Author Talk event Tuesday night in recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, authors Alena Dillon and Ioanna Opidee discussed their novels “Mercy House” and “Waking Slow,” both stories of reconciling trauma.
“I think what fiction adds to the conversation, and why it has a place in the conversation, is that emotional truth you’re able to dive into,” Opidee said of novels that deal with the topic of sexual assault.
“The more conversations we can have around these stories and the more forms in which we can find them, the more nuanced and complex our understanding will become,” Opidee added.
Dillon agreed that there’s an importance in sharing these types of stories, even though the ones they wrote are fictional.
“It might be too painful, too stark, for the reader to enter into a memoir, but there is that space then — that lens — through which you can reassure yourself it’s just a story, even if it’s reflecting the truth you’re talking about,” Dillon said. “It adds some breathing room.”
Opidee, who previously served as an adjunct college professor, was motivated to write her book “Waking Slow” because of what she observed on campus.
“There was just this wide-spread endemic of sexual violence on college campuses that was so incredibly normalized,” Opidee said. “It was everywhere, yet everyone was just sort of accepting it.”
She wrote the book in 2011, about six years before the #MeToo movement.
Dillon, an SJC instructor, wrote “Mercy House” after being inspired by one of the Sisters of St. Joseph. The novel is about a group of nuns who work at a woman’s shelter that’s under investigation by a man who, in the past, had sexually assaulted one of the nuns.
“I was drawn to the material initially from the nun aspect,” Dillon said. “I began working at St. Joseph’s in 2010, and that was my first interaction face-to-face with nuns.
“Where the story came from is a nun at St. Joseph’s College who worked overnights at a women’s shelter,” Dillon added. “And at the time, there was an investigation of American nuns, who were accused of having too much of a feminist spirit.”
Notably, Amy Schumer called Dillon’s novel “the book we’ve all been waiting for,” and it has been optioned into a TV series by CBS All Access.