The Road Out of Hell by Anthony Flacco

If we are to understand “evil” at all, we must think of it as a word—an emotional word—we use to describe actions performed by other humans that we experience as breathtakingly horrible, shocking, and, often enough, nauseating.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 304 pages.
Read from June 18, 2020 to June 20, 2020.

I’m an avid follower of a book site called Book Riot. They publish frequent articles on anything book related. I stumbled across a headline that instantly made me want to read it, called “The Most Disturbing Book I Have Ever Read“. I love disturbing books so I wanted to see if it was a book that I hadn’t read it and sure enough it was. The Road Out of Hell was this particular contributor’s vote for most disturbing read. I had vaguely heard about the Wineville murders, probably on some true crime documentary that I watched. The author of this article sold me and I instantly went and put the book on hold at my library.

In the mid-1920s, Sanford Clark was 13 years old when his peculiar uncle, Gordon Stewart Northcott, convinced his deranged and abusive mother that it was a good idea for him to leave his home in Saskatchewan, Canada and go and work with him on a “chicken farm” in Los Angeles in the US. The minute Sanford left the home his mother practically forgot him and his uncle began to show his true colours and intentions. For the next two years Sanford suffered unimaginable sexual abuse and trauma at the hands of his uncle. It became clear to Sanford that the chicken farm was a ruse for his uncle to carry out despicable acts on young boys like himself and get away with it. Gordon Stewart Northcott kidnapped, raped and killed an estimated 20 boys, though he was only convicted for a handful. Sanford was mortifyingly forced to help with some of the acts by providing his uncle’s victims with meager food and water, locking them away from visitors or helping dispose of their bodies. Sanford realised he would only live as long as he proved useful and endured the screams he heard night after night and felt immense guilt and relief when the abuse wasn’t being centered at him. After so much abuse, trauma, and manipulation, Sanford eventaully resigned himself to his fate believing his he was trapped and could not be saved. He was was looking forward to when his uncle would finally kill him… Thankfully his sister Jesse never ever gave up on him.

Gordon Steward Northcott finally got caught for his crimes when he made the mistake of killing a young white boy named Walter Collins of whom he had an acquaintance with. Up until then, Gordon had been praying on migrant Mexican boys whom unfortunately the authorities would not have looked to deeply into when they went missing or were never reported to begin with. The movie The Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie is about the murder of Walter Collin’s as Angelina Jolie’s character plays Christina Collins, Walter’s mom, as she searches for her missing son. Gordon’s family knew about what he did and covered for him, with his mother actually assisting in one of his heinous murders. Gordon and his family attempted to escape but were eventually caught in September of 1928. Sanford bravely testified against Gordon in court and helped sentence Gordon to death by hanging in October 1930. The media attention and the gravity of these horrific crimes caused the town of Wineville to change its name to Mira Loma.

This story isn’t about Gordon though, this story is about Sanford and how he managed to beat all the odds of the trauma he experienced. After being rescued from the chicken farm after Gordon and his family fled, Sanford was lucky to have a people on the police force looking out for him. Sanford was put into a rehabilative youth program for his parts in assisting in some of Gordon’s crimes, despite him being a victim himself, but the program proved to be extremely useful in keeping Sanford busy and helping him heal from the ordeal. He made a promise to the investigator that he wouldn’t become a criminal statistic of those who have had to endure major trauma like he did. Sanford set out to lead a normal and productful life and he succeeded. Marrying the woman of his dreams and have the continued support from her and his sister Jesse through his darkest days, Jesse became a humble, hardworking, and kind person who raised two sons. He even served in WWII. Sanford passed away at the age of 78 in 1991 having fullfilled the promise to the policeman who showed him kindness and believed in him. The promise that kept him going during his darkest days.

This story is one of struggle and triumph. The novel puts the focus on Sanford and not on Gordon, as it should. The abhorring scenes that Sanford endured are tastefully described by the author in shocking detail that really makes you feel like you are in Sanford’s shoes. The author masterfully put Sanford’s life together from his teens to the end of his life. The content in this book is so chilling it’s hard to believe that it really happened as it’s a surreal read that is as engaging as a piece of horror fiction. I could not put this book down.

This novel is, by far, the best true crime novel I’ve read to date and I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves the genre. However, if you’re sensitive to scenes of rape and trauma, this book may not be for you. While the ultimate outcome of this book is positive, trauma is still takes a up a large part of this story.

 

 

Educated by Tara Westover

“My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.”

Better late than never right? Thanks to all of my followers who have been patient with me and my posts while I grieve. I’ve still got a long way to go but it feels good to start to resume some of my normal routines and hobbies.

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 334 pages.
Read from September 22, 2019 to September 27, 2019.

There are many memoirs out there that are written by pretentious and self-important people that make for dull reads, which is generally why I don’t read too many. Then there are memoirs that detail the life of a seemingly ordinary person that has led the most remarkable life and has overcome challenges that many of us can’t even envision. This is one of those memoirs.

Tara grew up in a strict Mormon family plagued by fanatical religion, paranoia, and unaddressed mental health issues in rural Idaho. Her father believed that the government couldn’t be relied on for anything including medical care and education and was constantly preparing for the end of days. Tara’s mother was thrown into midwifery to help the family get by and relied strictly on herbs and essential oils to treat all medical ailments or injuries. Tara has six siblings most of which, like herself, have been unaware of what the outside world could teach them or what was available to them out of the reach of their father’s influence. Tara discusses the wildly unsafe work her father subjected her and siblings to in the junkyard as well as horrific injuries that some of the family members sustained during this work or travel.  Tara details the mental and physical abuse imbibed on her by her older brother Shawn and how her family allowed it to continue. How Tara and a few of her siblings managed to lift themselves out of this destructive family is nothing short of remarkable. Tara attended school for the first time at the age of seventeen. This book chronicles her choices, struggles, failures, and successes in learning to become her own person while stepping away, yet still loving her dysfunctional family.

“You can love someone and still choose to say goodbye to them,” she says now. “You can miss a person every day, and still be glad that they are no longer in your life.”

Despite being subjected to years of gaslighting, brainwashing, and emotional abuse, Tara managed to get a PhD and still find peace with her family and her upbringing. Despite internalising much of the abuse, Tara came to realise that there were small blessings in her upbringing as it gave her a unique hunger to excel in her education that many of her peers didn’t have. Tara slowly learned to find confidence in her own abilities and intelligence in which she then learned that she could decide how to see the world for herself.

Tara’s writing is honest and mindful as she tries to be as accurate to her memories and as well as that of her family’s recollections of pinnacle events in their lives. She walks you through her thought process at the time by including diary entries and then reflects on them. There are moments in this memoir that will literally make your jaw drop. I know for me, without spoiling anything, it was the medical trauma her father and brother survived. I mean, I think I might put all my faith in God too if I overcame such trauma without medical intervention. Tara’s writing is concise, engaging, neutral, yet welcoming. You sort of feel like you’re a close of friend of Tara’s and once in a while over coffee, she details her past life.

If you’re not into memoirs, this one might convert you as it’s worthy of all the hype it’s received. I didn’t want to put this book down. This book would appeal to just about anyone and would make an excellent book club selection.

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

“When your innocence is stripped from you, when your people are denigrated, when the family you came from is denounced and your tribal ways and rituals are pronounced backward, primitive, savage, you come to see yourself as less than human. That is hell on earth, that sense of unworthiness. That’s what they inflicted on us.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 191 pages
Read from January 1, 2019 to January 2, 2019

I picked up this book on a recommendation by a friend, though if I had started reading all the Canada Reads books just one year earlier I would have come across this moving story sooner. Indian Horse made the Canada Reads 2013 shortlist but was unfortunately voted off in the first round.

Indian Horse is an all-encompassing story that touches tragic issues related to the indigenous people in Canada. The story also has wide-reaching themes with its integral connection to hockey and the protagonist’s, Saul Indian Horse, struggles with childhood trauma and alcoholism. Saul’s past starts with his indigenous roots as a young child trying to escape the prying arms of the white man trying to forcefully place him and siblings in residential schooling. His family knows the woods and has this advantage but their luck does not last forever. After being pried away from the frozen and dead grip of his grandmother he is forced into a residential school where endures severe abuse. His only reprieve from the misery and loneliness of the school is through hockey. Saul shows promise as a talented hockey player at a young age but his native roots make him an outcast against the white hockey teams he plays against, despite being better than them. As Saul grows, hockey carries him through the toughest moments in his life but things start to turn sour as Saul becomes an adult and the hockey realm becomes more abusive and physical. Unable to deal with his past traumas and personal failures Saul turns to drink. The story opens with Saul at rock bottom with him coming to an understanding that if he wants peace he needs to tell his story.

Saul’s childhood is nothing short of traumatizing as the author details how Saul and many real indigenous people in Canada were treated during the horrific era of residential schooling in Canada. Physical and sexual abuse was rampant, leaving many of the children with irreparable trauma in which its no surprise that many did turn substance abuse as an outlet. Saul’s story is tragic but the ending is nothing short of inspiring. The writing is easy to read yet remarkably crafted. Richard Wagamese is a talented author that writes from the heart, his characters are dynamic and engaging and his plot and storylines are thoughtful and concise.

This book is for every Canadian, especially those who enjoy inspirational stories on overcoming adversity, hockey, or anything related to Canadian history. What makes this story all the more poignant is that Saul’s story represents so many indigenous children in Canada with the tragedy being that so many of them don’t get the peaceful ending that Saul did making it all the more important that their stories get shared.