Review by Ariel M. Goldenthal
Dominic Bucca’s Faculty Brat: A Memoir of Abuse is the winner of the 2019 Iowa Prize for Literary Nonfiction (University of Iowa Press, 2020). The memoir is broken into three sections, each carrying the title of a different last name that Bucca took in his journey for justice. Rather than a simple observer, Bucca asks the reader to immerse themselves in each of these three stages of his life.
In Faculty Brat, Dominic Bucca recounts thirty years of life shaped by the sexual abuse that he suffered at the hands of his stepfather. The sexual abuse is compounded by years of verbal abuse that continue even after Bucca moves to live with his biological father’s family. Slowly, the cracks from the abuse turn to breaks in his family and the legal system, revealed when he finally decides to tell his mother and sisters the truth. And long after the abuse itself ends, the dissociation remains, evident in Bucca’s decision to distance himself from his past by referring to himself as “the boy.”
The strength of this work is Bucca’s specificity—an all-too-common tale of abuse shaped into a unique and courageous memoir. The specificity reaches from the memoir’s structure to its language and stylistic choices. Each section of Faculty Brat begins with an aptly titled, “Orientation,” that tells the reader which role they will be playing for those pages. The title of “Orientation” plays on themes of college welcome weeks, but instead sets the reader in the specific context of the memoir: not only a preparatory school, but one of the most prestigious preparatory schools in the nation; not only a child, but the child of a teacher at the school—a faculty brat.
The first “Orientation” chapter tells the reader to “imagine you are the single mother of a toddler,” and gives us just enough detail to inhabit that woman’s life with her young son before the turn. The chapter ends with, “Now, remember your boy.” The suddenness of the switch allows the reader to sink into the role of the mother just long enough to forget, as she seems to do at times, about that son.
Throughout Faculty Brat, Bucca employs turns in the plot, and in the language itself, to remind the reader that nothing is ever what it seems. The “you” of the first chapter shifts from the mother to a powerless observer, and finally to the author himself; mirroring the separation and emotional transformation that Bucca endured.
Bucca balances the devastating darkness of his story with emotionally open language that draws the reader into his world and holds them there, even in the deepest moments of despair.
“You’ve finally found at least some of that unnamable strength, the opposite of a lifetime of silence, finally managed to access your anger, finally found the proper outlet for Gozer, that frighteningly strong, self-righteous part of yourself, the subversive keeper of all your rage.”
In a memoir of growth and the struggle for power and control, it is the hurt and angry part of Bucca that finally succeeds in sharing the truth of his stepfather’s abuse. Faculty Brat: A Memoir of Abuse is more than what the title suggests: It is a story of strength and quiet hope, expertly drawn and beautifully told.