Spectral Evidence: The Ramona Case: Incest, Memory, and Truth on Trial in Napa Valley

By Moira Johnston | Go to book overview
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The Process

Since this is a story whose major theme and tension are a family's competing memories, I felt it was vital to find an approach and format that reflected that essential uncertainty over "what happened." It is a story of lives destroyed by allegations based on memories that cannot, by our best scientists today, be definitively proven true or false. There is, of course, an objective reality that cannot be denied. Gary Ramona raped, or did not rape, his daughter. His daughter's recovered memories of incest are, fundamentally, trustworthy or not. But the mists that surround objective truth in Ramona are like smoke over a battlefield, obscuring events and leaving the reader, like the jury, to match one truth against another and to come to personal conclusions: What were the sources of Holly Ramona's memories? Where does guilt for the tragedy truly lie?

This book, unlike my previous ones, was not the place for fully rounded reports of every scene, verified from two or three points of view -- the conventional journalistic technique. There is safety in that approach, for it protects the writer from the accusation that she has unfairly skewed the story in one direction or another. I wanted to let the passions and biases of each major character speak directly, without a chorus of points of view diluting that strongly held "truth."

In searching for a format, I found my guides in two distinguished academics, the historian Simon Schama and the memory scientist Marcia K. Johnson, both of whom work with the disparate realities from which human history is fashioned. I have, humbly, followed their path in telling a "true story" that reflects the idea that "real history" is not neat and tidy; it is layer upon tangled, intertwined layer of ambiguous and inconclusive "truths."

"Past, present, and future are not discrete divisions among an orderly succession of life's events . . . They collapse onto each other, emerge from each

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