Love and Terror: Penetrating the Heart of Evil

By Diane Cole

November/December 2013

Real-life horror stories of children subjected to repeated physical and sexual abuse and brutality inevitably raise a chorus of public shock, with differing but predictable refrains. First, there’s the dismay of stunned neighbors who claim never to have suspected what was going on behind the doors they walked past day after day. There are some less surprised locals who admit that they always thought something was a bit off about the now-exposed abusers next door, but stayed silent, either out of respect for other people’s privacy or just not wanting to get involved. Then there are some who blame the victims themselves by asking why, if the situation was so terrible, they didn’t find a way out sooner. Almost always left for last are the deepest sociological questions: what factors blind us to what’s really going on, and what can we do to be more alert to them?

As chronicled by journalist Tom Kizzia in Pilgrim’s Wildneress: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier, the long-term physical, sexual, and psychological abuse perpetrated by a father against his family provides a tale so harrowing that it could serve as a textbook case to expand on all these issues. Kizzia’s detailed reporting—he covered the story over the course of several years as a staff member of the Anchorage Daily News—provides an inside look at the psychology of community denial and individual responsibility, and his sensitivity to family dynamics lends…

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