BOOK REVIEW - The Last Dance For Grace
Crystal Mangum does not want you calling her "the accuser."
Instead, she wants you to see her as just Crystal Mangum, which she says is the purpose of her memoir, "The Last Dance for Grace."
The memoir, she and her co-writer and agent Vincent Clark said, is Mangum's attempt at gaining closure on the case that put her name in papers across the country. Detailing her troubled childhood and family story, Mangum focuses on her long history of alleged sexual abuse as well as the fateful March 13, 2006 night, after which she falsely accused three former lacrosse players of rape.
"Last Dance" presents the protagonist as a sympathetic victim in the middle of a media storm. Her story-written in plain language that assumes no more than the immediate meaning of the words and features more than the occasional typo-is one of great tragedy. Mangum establishes herself not only as a victim of the lacrosse case but a victim of circumstance. She struggles with self-image, feels rejected by her father who, she claims, prefers her sister and finds herself in multiple volatile relationships.
The primary relationship Mangum details is her first boyfriend-a 19-year-old, whom she met when she was 14. Mangum describes violent and unsettling rape scenes by not only her then-boyfriend, but his friends as well.
But the veracity of this allegation has previously been drawn into question when reports surfaced that she failed to pursue the allegation, posing the question of the narrator's reliability. Nonetheless, this and other similar events set the stage for Mangum's emotional problems, depression and eventual career as an exotic dancer.
Of course, the big question is whether or not she names specific lacrosse players. Although Mangum maintains that she was raped at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd., she never mentions the names or any affiliations of her alleged attackers.
Mangum insists that she accepts the outcome of the case, but the simple substance of this book suggests otherwise. She claims sympathy for disbarred former Durham district attorney Mike Nifong, but mostly takes the media to task.
And when it comes to the University at the center of it, Mangum presents two different accounts. When describing a meeting at the attorney general's office, she accuses Duke of silencing people for the sake of the University's reputation, but later in the text admits that she does not blame the institution.
In the final pages, Mangum claims that the writing of this book is the beginning of her healing process, and Clark asks for her redemption. But the question remains whether this process needed to be so public, opening a case Duke, Durham and the nation have tried to move beyond.
Whether or not Mangum finds closure with this book is her business, but the redemption that Clark seeks for his subject is the public's choice.