Offering in-depth perspectives of both mother and daughter, the novel ONCE YOU KNOW by Madeleine Van Hecke examines what happens after sexual abuse in a family comes to light. What’s exceptionally intriguing is that nothing explored in this tale is cut and dried. For one thing, Colleen is Catholic and according to her faith, God instructs His followers that anything except suicide can be forgiven. So the reality that her husband Derek used to inappropriately touch their eldest daughter, Rachel, when she was young must be in Colleen’s (and Rachel’s) power to forgive, mustn’t it? Especially after Colleen’s friend, Pat, discloses what went on in her own family, and yet she’s managed to stay with that abuser all this time; a man who eventually walked one of his grown daughters down the wedding aisle.
Rachel meanwhile struggles with remembering exactly what happened between her and her father all those years ago. One thing is clear: whatever the murky details reveal continue fill her with ever-increasing revulsion, anxiety, hate, shame, self-punishment, and guilt, turning the relationships she has with her college friends, and boyfriend, Aaron, into a dizzying roller coaster for everyone. There are no easy answers regarding what should come next, now that Rachel and her mother both know that something that shouldn’t have happened between a parent and child, did. Therapy is perhaps helping Rachel a bit. Pills from her roommate Mandy help too, except that Rachel is maybe becoming too dependent on them. But if all her father did was touch her and have her child’s hand touch him, is that enough to cause the full-blown PTSD she seems to be experiencing when so many other ‘victims’ have lived through much worse?
ONCE YOU KNOW is an explosive examination of the foul slime of child abuse versus every family member’s desire to be able to look themselves in the mirror and see a good person reflected there. Complicating matters further is the fact that Colleen herself has often had a problem managing an Irish temper that some might also call abusive, and the fact that Rachel’s little sister, Izzy, adores her father and has no idea why everyone is suddenly acting so strange.
Madeleine Van Hecke’s remarkable novel ONCE YOU KNOW asks many insightful questions, continually adding new sober layers to an astonishingly complex and relevant subject.
~C.S. Holmes for IndieReader