With twists worthy of a season finale of “Law & Order: SVU,” The Damage explores a family’s struggle in the aftermath of a sexual assault.
College student Nick Hall meets a handsome stranger in a bar and leaves with him for a one-night stand, only to find himself the victim of a violent attack. Hospitalized and in shock, Nick turns to his much older brother, Tony, for support. Tony and his wife, Julia, have always been parental figures to Nick, and they find themselves reeling from the reality of his rape.
Overwhelmed by shame and trauma, Nick sinks into a suicidal depression while Tony, desperate for a sense of control and justice, turns his rage toward the man arrested for attacking Nick. Julia, a former defense attorney, sees her family fracturing and realizes she must go to extreme lengths to save them all.
Unlike a traditional mystery, we know who Nick’s attacker is within the first few chapters. The real mystery in The Damage is what happens after the assault. The book jumps between the months after the 2015 attack to 2019, when the detective assigned to the case, now facing a terminal diagnosis, looks for answers as to what really happened in the aftermath. The man suspected of Nick’s attack has long since vanished, and the detective believes Julia may know the truth.
The Damage stands out for its depiction of the still taboo subject of male rape. Female sexual assault victims are commonplace in thrillers, but there is still a stigma surrounding male victims of sexual violence. Nick is aware of this stigma, and we see him work through the toxic shame surrounding his attack as he struggles to accept that he was not at fault for what happened to him.
This study of a family in crisis is empathetic and never gratuitous, but still doesn’t shy away from the realities of sexual violence. The Damage carefully and expertly captures the collective trauma of a close-knit family when one of its members is victimized, and the lengths to which they’ll go to find justice and healing.