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My Lie: A True Story of False Memory

ISBN: 978-0-470-50214-3
272 pages
September 2010, Jossey-Bass
My Lie: A True Story of False Memory (0470502142) cover image


Meredith Maran lived a daughter's nightmare: she accused her father of sexual abuse, then realized, nearly too late, that he was innocent.

During the 1980s and 1990s, tens of thousands of Americans became convinced that they had repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse, and then, decades later, recovered those memories in therapy.

Journalist, mother, and daughter Meredith Maran was one of them. Her accusation and estrangement from her father caused her sons to grow up without their only grandfather, divided her family into those who believed her and those who didn't, and led her to isolate herself on "Planet Incest," where "survivors" devoted their lives, and life savings, to recovering memories of events that had never occurred.

Maran unveils her family's devastation and ultimate redemption against the backdrop of the sex-abuse scandals, beginning with the infamous McMartin preschool trial, that sent hundreds of innocents to jail—several of whom remain imprisoned today.

Exploring the psychological, cultural, and neuroscientific causes of this modern American witch-hunt, My Lie asks: how could so many people come to believe the same lie at the same time? What has neuroscience discovered about the brain's capacity to create false memories and encode false beliefs? What are the "big lies" gaining traction in American culture today—and how can we keep them from taking hold?

My Lie is a wrenchingly honest, unexpectedly witty, and profoundly human story that proves the personal is indeed political—and the political can become painfully personal.

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Table of Contents

Author's Note.

Prologue: The Same Thing Happened to Me.

Introduction: One in Three.

Part One 1576-1982.

Chapter One Desperate Housewife.

Chapter Two In Feminism We Trust.

Part Two 1983-1993.

Chapter Three Please Question Your Child (and Your Childhood).

Chapter Four Breaking the Silence.

Chapter Five Daddy Can't Come Home Again.

Chapter Six Remember.

Chapter Seven Did He or Didn't He?

Chapter Eight In Therapy We Trust.

Part Three 1994-2009.

Chapter Nine Doubt.

Chapter Ten Deprogramming.

Chapter Eleven What Was I Thinking?

Chapter Twelve Eternal Sunshine of the Recovered Mind.

Chapter Thirteen In Neuroscience We Trust.

Chapter Fourteen Amends.

Epilogue: Grace.


About the Author.

Book Group Reading Guide.

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Author Information

Meredith Maran is an award-winning journalist and the author of several best-selling nonfiction books, among them Dirty, Class Dismissed, and What It's Like to Live Now. Her work appears in anthologies, newspapers, and magazines including People, Self, Family Circle, More, Mother Jones, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Salon.com. A member of the National Book Critics Circle, she lives in Oakland, California.
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"In this terrifying, haunting, and controversial memoir, award-winning journalist Meredith Maran delves into the fascinating subject of the recovered memory movement.... Maran's not just shockingly honest, she's also funny. Her refusal to whitewash her own behavior, her fierce ability to expose all sides of the issue (she doesn't deny that horrific abuse does occur and should be punished), and her compassion for the abused as well as those still falsely imprisoned as abusers opens up a dialogue about memory, belief, and past- and present-day culture that is as riveting as it is important." (Boston Globe, September 21, 2010)

"Maran's story is so tension-filled that I want to keep some of the twists out of this review, allowing readers of this remarkable book to discover them apart from me." (San Francisco Chronicle, September 19, 2010)

Only a writer as fierce and incisive as Meredith Maran could have written a book as intimate, dark, bracing and revelatory as My Lie.
MICHAEL CHABON, author of Manhood for Amateurs; and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Meredith Maran is a wonderful journalist and storyteller, profoundly honest, direct, witty, savvy and compassionate.
ANNE LAMOTT, author of Grace (Eventually) and Bird By Bird

My Lie is the brave and riveting "inside story" of the most devastating mental health controversy of the century. I couldn't put it down.
ELIZABETH F. LOFTUS, PHD, co-author of Witness for the Defense and The Myth of Repressed Memory

To admit sin is hard. To own a grave sin committed against a loved one is more difficult still. To be able to write about it with honesty and grace is extraordinary. My Lie by Meredith Maran tells a story no reader will—or should—forget.
KATHRYN HARRISON, author of The Kiss and The Mother Knot

Meredith Maran is fearless, and My Lie is a shockingly honest, stunningly nuanced book. Every parent, and everyone who has a parent, should read this searing father-daughter story.
AYELET WALDMAN, author of Bad Mother and Love and Other Impossible Pursuits

"This marvelous, searing book held me in its thrall from the moment I read the Prologue, and never let go. Meredith Maran has written a page-turner of a memoir, at once brave and heartbreaking. Who among us hasn't questioned her own memory? In navigating her family history, Maran becomes a detective, and MY LIE reads like a mystery all the more suspenseful because the writer has taken great care to tell the truth."
DANI SHAPIRO, author of Devotion: A Memoir

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Press Release

October 18, 2010
MY LIE: A True Story of False Memory

At age 37, Meredith Maran—an award-winning journalist and mother of two—accused her father of sexual abuse. Ten years later she realized, nearly too late, that he was innocent. This is her wrenchingly honest, profoundly human account of living a daughter’s nightmare.

How could she make such a grievous mistake? Even more shockingly: how could tens of thousands of other accomplished, middle-class, thirty-something women like Maran have made the same one?

Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, a sex-abuse panic spread across the country, beginning with the infamous McMartin preschool trial that sent hundreds of innocents to jail—several of whom remain imprisoned today. During this time, untold numbers of Americans became convinced that they’d repressed memories of unspeakable childhood sexual abuse, and then recovered those memories in therapy. Fathers, grandfathers, uncles, even mothers were falsely accused. Families were—and remain—deeply wounded and even destroyed by it.

MY LIE is the story of this modern-day witch-hunt as it played out in one woman’s life and family. But it’s also a tightly wound psychological, cultural and neuroscientific portrait of America during this controversial and historic time. As Dr. Elizabeth Loftus (co-author of Witness For The Defense and The Myth Of Repressed Memory) said, “MY LIE is the brave and riveting inside story of the most devastating mental health controversy of the century. I couldn’t put it down.”

Michael Chabon (author of Manhood For Amateurs and The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier & Clay) praised the book. “Only a writer as fierce and incisive as Meredith Maran could have written a book as intimate and revelatory as MY LIE.” And Kathryn Harrison (author of The Kiss and The Mother Knot) called it “A story no reader will—or should—forget.”   

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