Scandal watch: My Dark Vanessa

Have you guys been following this? A woman wrote a novel (“novel”?) about a music teacher sexually grooming a student for an affair (that garnered a fucking enormous advance), and a Latina author who had a similar memoir seems to be crying foul. According to this piece, the accusation of plagiarism might not stand up.

I’m going to point out a few things here and back slowly out of the room: 1) the idea that two women couldn’t simultaneously independently come up with a story of a predatory male taking advantage of vulnerable people is sort of preposterous, 2) this is not cultural appropriation, which seems a totally out-of-left-field accusation in this case, 3) as the author of the piece says, I understand feeling bummed that this woman got seven figures for her book when your book from half a dozen years earlier did not, but the problem is not the new book, it’s the publishing industry — they gave seven figures now and not in 2013 because the #metoo movement has opened up the average reader to the conversation.

And besides that: the publishing industry is like a retiree at a casino in Florida, betting the farm away on the hopes of a big payout. They drop huge sums on one book and nothing on the next and hope it all comes out in the wash. Why not spread those seven figures out and give your five best authors what amounts to sustaining funding for a few years to get five good books? Nope, it’s all get rich quick schemes.

I’ve read both books. I finished the ARC of My Dark Vanessa last year and felt winded. It resonated with me. I finished Excavation today. Are they similar? In as much as both young women are manipulated by predators, and write with the hindsight that comes with adulthood. A cursory googling of blurbs will lead you to believe that this is the same story published four years later. It is not.

Is statutory rape an intellectual property? Does one person have the rights to a story that happens to kids from all walks of life, everywhere? Whilst a novel isn’t a call to action, a raising of awareness, in the same way a memoir can achieve, My Dark Vanessa will help people process their own similar or adjacent experiences. Russell isn’t obligated to defend herself by saying “This happened to me,” but I worry she will be forced to out herself as a victim as more people flood to criticize the similarities between the two books.

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