I was asked to review the book She Can Fly via a thoughtful message on Twitter. Prior to that message, I’d never heard of the book or Kerry Keyes. It’s for the best that I came to She Can Fly cold, because I don’t know that I would have had the courage to pick it up if I’d known what it was about.
That would have been my great loss.
Written by Michael G. Gabel, She Can Fly is a creative nonfiction memoir project dedicated to raising awareness and support for victims of domestic violence. It tells the story of Kerry Keyes, a sheltered young woman who fell for a charismatic (aren’t they always?), manipulative, viciously abusive man and got trapped in an escalating, seemingly inescapable horror of a life. Horror is a big word, but it’s the right one for Kerry’s life with her abuser, Wayman.
I am no stranger to stories where terrible things happen to women, but these books are nearly always fiction and the women in question generally triumph, or if not triumph, come to a resolution that feels satisfying. There’s closure. Sometimes there are even happy endings. Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone springs to mind as an example of the kind of book I’m talking about. And as I made my way through Kerry’s story, I found myself trying to retreat into the comforts of fiction.
Kerry has children with Wayman, surely she will flee with her sons and disappear into a false identity, like in Anna Quindlen’s Black & Blue!
Wayman seduces and has children with other women, and at times Kerry and these women live together in a single home. Surely they will bond in sisterhood and fight Wayman together, like in The Witches of Eastwick!
She kills him, right? She absolutely murders him. Like in Practical Magic.
She Can Fly is full of the kind of drama that makes for a gripping story — forbidden attraction, involuntary commitment to a psych ward, crimes committed, jail time done, an escape from the abuser, evading the authorities, living on the lam. But it is no fiction. And knowing this, reading Kerry’s words, her prosaic telling of the circumstances that set her up as a target for Wayman and left her bereft, having intimate knowledge of what was done to her, what she had to survive, makes me want to wail. It makes me want to rip my clothes and throw dust on my head.
This isn’t an easy book to read. But there is redemption here.
Kerry is alive to share her story. She has the courage and willingness to do so. Gabel — who met Kerry when he was a child and she was his nanny — has the resources, talent, and passion to share that story. And we are here, to bear witness, to raise awareness, to work towards a world where every woman has a way out, a way to safety, if she needs it.
She Can Fly is harrowing. It is ineffably sad. It is deeply important and necessary.
And we owe it to ourselves, to each other, to Kerry and all the women like her, not to look away.
You can read She Can Fly for free online, or purchase a copy on Amazon, iBooks, or Nook. (I am not an affiliate and will not receive any compensation if you choose to purchase, I’m linking for convenience only.)