Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Source of All Things by Tracy Ross

The Source of All Things by Tracy Ross is a memoir centering around the fact that as a young child Ross was repeatedly abused by her stepfather- the man she called Dad since her biological father had passed away when she was only seven months old. Ross loved the new man in her life who filled out her family and did wonderful things like taking them camping in the wilderness. That all changed when she was first sexually abused at only eight years old on a camping trip. It was the first of dozens of attacks, and as Ross finally had the courage to come forward and stop the abuse, she had to deal with the fact that her family didn't believe her and her stepfather was unapologetic. After decades of hidden emotional struggles, she finally confronts her attacker, the man she still calls dad, on a camping trip to the same place where the cycle began. The Source of All Things is Ross' story of how abuse impacted her life, as well as the legacy she hopes to leave for her own children.

The first thing I want to say about this book should be obvious, but I just want to make sure: I am reviewing this as a work of literature. Ross is an incredibly strong woman to have overcome all she has gone through, and it goes without saying that it must have taken incredible bravery to write this memoir in the first place. That said, as inspiring as it is for her to reflect on her abuse and how she was able to move past it, I did have serious issues with the book itself. Ross does a great job at letting the reader know what it is like in the mind of somebody who has been abused, how it lead to a cycle of bad behaviours including an abusive relationship with a man named Colin. Reflecting on one of their very first dates, Ross writes:
"It took a long time for Colin to calm himself enough to accept my apology. I stared past him, wishing I could resume dancing. But when someone tells you how wounded he is- partially on account of your actions- a pair of shackles materializes out of the air and binds you together. I knew I'd crossed a line. I also knew there was no retracting."
Despite knowing instantly that Colin is bad news, Ross doesn't know how to escape his grip on her life. It is devastating to read about her putting herself in harm's way after finally having gotten away from her childhood abuse.  Behaviours such as this are unfortunate but understandable, and from what I gathered in the book, quite unsurprising for victims of abuse which can severely damage their self-esteem. Still, too often I found myself knowing what Ross was doing but not quite understanding the why, I wished she would have elaborating more on what she was thinking when she made particular decisions.

Often, I found Ross' actions very conflicting and confusing. She wants to be independent of her mother and stepfather, but continues to accept money from them. She lets them pay for the wedding, but then refuses to let her stepfather walk her down the aisle. She seems to sway back and forth in so many of her decisions, wanting to have it both ways. At times, the reason for this seems clear- that she doesn't want to make a hassle- but then she does something that directly conflicts with her previous actions and as a reader I became confused again.

Ross also allows her stepfather to spend a lot of time with her children, even though he has never really come clean about how he abused her. Then, when he finally does, she decides he's not allowed to see them anymore (or at least very rarely). It is hard for me to fathom in what kind of situation a mother would allow her abuser access to her own children, and it is also something that Ross appears to struggle with. That said, Ross' decision that because her stepfather has finally been honest with her, he should no longer be able to see her children, doesn't really make sense to me as a reader. That's not to say it's wrong- but I read this book to get insight into her situation and the lack of explanation about her actions often left me puzzled and wanting more. 

The other problem I had with The Source of All Things is the extensive detail about all of Ross' wilderness adventures like living in Alaska. These sorts of experiences may be interesting to some people, but I was expecting a memoir, not a travel journal, and oftentimes the book got bogged down and distracted by all of this unrelated information. The memoir itself is based on an article Ross wrote, and I can't help but wonder if when she went to elaborate she got quite off-topic in the process. The part of the book that did touch me especially was when Ross talks about what she wants her legacy to be for her own sons, children she never imagined she would have because she felt so damaged by her own childhood. Writing about them, she says:
"One day, when they are old enough to finally read this, I’ll want my sons to know they rescued me. That even though I was terrified by their raw, needy bodies, I loved them the second I touched the silky hairs covering their rice-paper skin. Ever since they were born, they have forced me out of the darkness and into a bigger, happier world."
The Source of All Things definitely shows what the impact of abuse can be long-term on a person and it is an incredibly brave book, and portions of it were quite successful, but I found it too often was off-topic and unclear to be completely successful as a memoir.

Release Date: March 8th, 2011
Pages: 304
: 2/5

Source: Egalley from Publisher
Buy the Book


  1. Interesting. Great review!

    Michelle V

  2. Ross' book deftly showed the emotional impact of sexual abuse, how the victim struggles with ambivalence, denial, anger and shame. For example, her ambivalence is shown by her confusing relationship with her parents. Her denial of the abuse is shown by her allowing her parents to babysit.

    At first, I was also distracted by the travelogue bits, but I began to understand that sharing her adventures in the wilderness was also a big part of her life.

    The source of all things--the backpacking at Redfish Lake was the source of her pain (the abuse), but it ironically was also the source of her present joy (exploring the wilderness).

  3. @Anonymous- although your comment clarifies some of the book, I feel like that wasn't at all clear in the memoir itself. I don't have a previous understanding of the emotional impact of sexual abuse, so if Ross didn't explain it then I had no idea and ended up very confused by her actions which resulted me in feeling the book was lacking as a memoir.

    Also even though I appreciate that travel was important to her, I still didn't find it interesting to read about. Certain bits worked, but in moderation.

    Anyway, I know many readers loved the book and I applaud Ross' bravery in writing it but it just didn't work for me.


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