Jane Doe January: My Twenty-year Search for Truth and Justice by Emily Winslow
About this book: (from the publisher) On the morning of September 12, 2013, a fugitive task force arrested Arthur Fryar at his apartment in Brooklyn. His DNA, entered in the FBI’s criminal database after a drug conviction, had been matched to evidence from a rape in Pennsylvania years earlier. Over the next year, Fryar and his lawyer fought his extradition and prosecution for the rape—and another like it—which occurred in 1992. The victims—one from January of that year, the other from November—were kept anonymous in the media. This is the story of Jane Doe January.
Emily Winslow was a young drama student at Carnegie Mellon University’s elite conservatory in Pittsburgh when a man brutally attacked and raped her in January 1992. While the police’s search for her rapist proved futile, Emily reclaimed her life. Over the course of the next two decades, she fell in love, married, had two children, and began writing mystery novels set in her new hometown of Cambridge, England. Then, in fall 2013, she received shocking news—the police had found her rapist.
This is her intimate memoir—the story of a woman’s traumatic past catching up with her, in a country far from home, surrounded by people who have no idea what she’s endured. Caught between past and present, and between two very different cultures, the inquisitive and restless crime novelist searches for clarity. Beginning her own investigation, she delves into Fryar’s family and past, reconnects with the detectives of her case, and works with prosecutors in the months leading to trial.
As she recounts her long-term quest for closure, Winslow offers a heartbreakingly honest look at a vicious crime—and offers invaluable insights into the mind and heart of a victim.
About the author: Emily Winslow is an American in Cambridge, England. She is the author of the memoir Jane Doe January and the novels The Whole World, The Start of Everything, and The Red House. Visit her online at EmilyWinslow.com.
Genre: Non-fiction/Memoir/Crime/Women’s Issues
If this book were a movie, I would rate it: R for profanity and mature themes
Reminds me of: Rare Bird by Anna Whiston-Donaldson for its honest yet redemptive examination of a shattering event
[Tweet “Gut-honest memoir offers keen insight into heart & mind of victim #JaneDoeJanuary @EmilyCWinslow”]
Reflection: When I started this book, I didn’t realize that the author is in fact a writer — that is, she is a novelist who was well established in her career before she penned her deeply personal, moving memoir. As such, she is a wordsmith and a student of human nature of the first order. Her narrative is both incisively articulate and gut-honest, and so fair warning: her memoir is not for the faint of heart.
In sometimes graphic terms, Emily Winslow examines the crime, its aftermath, and her reactions with crystal clarity. She also reveals the depth and breadth of her intellect — diving, for example, into the minutiae of law and legality with an investigative reporter’s single-minded focus; but also expressing herself creatively as in a poem she wrote shortly after the rape (which also serves to expose the breathtaking power of the written word).
I was puzzled by a stylistic choice — whether this was the author’s own or the publisher’s, I don’t know. In references of her kids, she calls them by their first initial — S. and W. While of course understanding the need for privacy, this seemed unnecessary and distracting, especially since everywhere else either real names are used or, in five instances, pseudonyms. As it was, the initial followed by a period always made me stumble, disrupting the flow of an otherwise flawlessly smooth narrative.
Once her attacker was identified and scheduled for trial — twenty-plus years after the crime — the author became temporarily obsessed with discovering all she could about him, and naturally so. As a reader, I was much more interested in her recovery from the event that inflicted such deep wounds. And in the proactive steps she took to not let it define her. And in the fiction-worthy twists and turns of her real-life story.
Emily Winslow was and apparently still is a practicing Christian, and so how she wrestled honestly with questions of faith and forgiveness was fascinating to me. I also took encouragement from the fact that in her recovery from an act of evil — of reclaiming her life from a thief who stole something most precious — she found beauty and goodness in friendship, community, and the authentic expression of self.
Thanks to William Morrow for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.
After words: Have you read any of Emily Winslow’s three novels? They are mysteries set in Cambridge, the city she now calls home.