author: David Cruise, Alison Griffiths
published: 23 October 1998
publisher: Penguin Group Canada
genre(s): true crime
buy/shelve it: Amazon | Goodreads
Imagine a lush green valley, dotted with prosperous farms and towns. It could be anywhere in North America—the Okanagan in B.C., the Niagara orchards of Ontario. In this case it happens to be the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia. But on one hill, South Mountain, lives the a clan of impoverished, inbred hillbillies, ignored or shunned by the people in the valley below for two hundred years. Few have much schooling, most are unemployed, and they keep almost entirely to themselves. Two solitudes side by side, until one day in January 1984, Sandra Golder, aged thirteen, burst into tears in class. When her teacher took her out into the hall to ask her why she was crying, a gruesome story of incest and sexual abuse began to emerge. Within hours the story had spread to the principal, a social worker, and finally the police. Within weeks a full-fledged scandal had been unleashed on the valley: sixteen adults—men and women—from the Mountain were charged with hundreds of allegations of incest and sexual abuse of children as young as five. It gradually became clear that this had been going on for generations, a cycle endlessly repeated.
This book tells the amazing story not only of the court cases that followed, but the way the valley community reacted. Dark secrets weren't the exclusive property of the Golers: the townspeople had their own, including the fact that some of them had known about the abuse for decades and done nothing about it.
This is a difficult book to review, in my opinion. One one hand, there was a huge amount of information that felt unnecessary, all content that had nothing to do with the case at the focus of the book, making it feel like filler. On the other hand, the story of the Goler clan itself was both terrifying and disturbingly engrossing. It is a story of generational rape and incest and abuse, all of which was known by the people of the nearby towns. But the social divide between those in the villages and those on the mountain was so wide that chances to change things for the mountain children were ignored.
To address that which I didn’t like… Easily the first third of the book was the filler information I didn’t care for. It was little more than the incredibly long history of South Mountain. None of it had anything at all to do with the case at hand. It was simply history of the land. I skimmed that part… at best.
However, the meat of the book was the Goler clan, which was utterly polarizing. The entire story of this clan, what happened, the social dynamics of the area… all of it was so disturbing. The attitudes and lack of care shown by the majority of the people toward the Mountain people was disgusting. There was the pervasive feeling that while what the Golers did to their own would have been worse if they’d done it to the towns’ children. People thought it was somehow less horrible when it was kept within the family because that was the lifestyle, so it was really no big deal for the children. WHAT?! It was abundantly clear that the Mountain people were considered to be subhuman.
The story was incredibly haungting, and utterly sad. None of the children escaped unscathed, some adapting to life post-trauma somewhat better than others.And none of the adults received the punishments I felt they’d earned, the family even getting two new homes in the aftermath. And at least two of them reoffended within the family. Worse, a few of the children eventually returned to the mountain, a clear sign of just how pervasive the abuse was on their psyches.
All in all, a disturbing but eye-opening read.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: