BY DEANNA KALIAN ’20
“I felt as though I had dug myself into an abyss,” wrote non-fiction author J.K. Stein. “There was no turning back. I was in knee-deep with The Director.”
“The Director: A Memoir” by Stein is a narrative that begins during her early post-graduate years as she struggled to make her way in New York City. The story, which hit the shelves in January, details the relationship between 22-year-old Stein and a 65-year-old high-profile director.
In the foreword, Stein said that “raw and unedited” journal entries comprise much of her memoir, and revealed that she had kept four journals of rigorously detailed notes about every encounter she ever had with The Director. The only details she altered are names; Stein herself remains anonymous, and she refers to the director simply as “The Director.” Every other bit of information, according to Stein, is “unadulterated truth.”
She was partially motivated to publish the memoir in the wake of the #MeToo movement, which went viral in late 2017 to bring awareness to the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment. Stein wrote that she felt obligated to share her own experience with the abusive, manipulative director. During that horrific period in her life, she realized the value of chronicling her abuse — both as material for a future memoir, and as an instrument to foster her own emotional healing.
Stein stated in the foreword that she wanted to explore the complex nature of consent and abuse in her memoir, issues she believes are not treated with enough nuance by the #MeToo movement.
Although Stein recognizes that her relationship with The Director relied on an unequal balance of power — and that he manipulated her thoughts and feelings — she still struggles to understand her own role and responsibility in the relationship. Stein’s frustration with herself colors the memoir. However, the first-person style of the narrative allows the reader to indulge in Stein’s analysis of the subject while suspending judgment despite the polarizing topic; Stein is telling her personal story, and thus speaks only for herself.
Moments of serious contemplation characterize much of the memoir. Stein’s experiences are horrifying, and she often examines the relationship between The Director’s abuse, her sexuality and her eating disorder. She identifies her low self-esteem as something that made her susceptible to The Director’s machinations in the first place.
However, the tone of the memoir is also overwhelmingly facetious. Stein often uses humor to process her trauma and relate it to her audience. That humor softens the dark and graphic edges of her story enough for the reader to continue following it. As Stein recounts episodes of sexual and emotional abuse, eating disorders and body dysmorphia, her witty one-liners permit the reader to take a breath of fresh air and dive back in.
Stein does not shy away from the fact that the path to healing is not linear. She demonstrates that, despite her tumultuous relationship with The Director and its aftermath, she was able to realize and embrace her self-worth. Her burgeoning emotional maturity makes trudging through the traumatic parts of “The Director: A Memoir” rewarding, and the reader gets to witness Stein evolve into the woman she is today.