In Going Through Hell Without
Help From Above, James Eder powerfully describes the his experience in
September 1985 during the days in which his twenty-one-year-old daughter Vicki
went missing and was eventually found murdered, and the subsequent trial of her
murderer in April 1986. As one would expect, it is time of anguish and anger
for Eder, and his prose conveys his emotions effectively. What's especially
striking about this memoir is Eder's frank description of his mixed feelings
about his daughter's lifestyle as well as his reactions to the rest of his
In the early stages, at the police
station, Eder meets his ex-wife, Val, and it's clear that his relationship with
her is not friendly. She pessimistically expresses her fear that Vicki is
dead, and Eder replies that the worst may not be true.
Val fixed bovine
eyes on me. "So where's Vicki?" she retorted.
I could have
ripped her face off, but I still wouldn't understand what made her tick.
Cheery and chirpy, emotions as flat as a tuneless chant, she inspired
Moments like this are reminiscent of hardboiled
detective novels, which is unexpected in this genre of memoir. By making
himself appear gruff and bristling, Eder simultaneously deflects the reader's
pity and makes him easier to identify with. His honesty adds to the
richness of his story, and shows how his different emotions mix together. It
becomes clear that he had not seen his daughter much in the months before her
disappearance, and that he was disappointed with what she was doing with her
life and her choice of her boyfriend, Jimmy. In discovering the circumstances
when she disappeared, the picture of her life raise even more concern. Even
though she was living with Jimmy, she had been at a singles bar with a
girlfriend, getting drunk and probably getting high. Eder sorts through his
disappointment and his anger that his daughter didn't get the chance to emerge
from this troubled time in her life.
The book consists of a great deal of dialogue, which
gives it a fast pace. One might wonder how accurate Eder's memory is of all
the small details of those terrible days over 17 years ago, but he paints a
convincing picture. He also recreates the last day of his daughter's life in a
sequence of intermittent flashbacks, and remembers some events from Vicki's
childhood, helping to give more depth to our understanding of his feelings as a
parent. What's particularly striking is Eder's reaction to the scrutiny of
other people, at the trial and in social interactions. In one memorable
episode, near the end of the book, he and his wife visit a group of parents of
murdered children, but he feels extremely uncomfortable there and they leave
even before the group sits down to eat. He sees other bereaved parents who are
still consumed by their tragedies many years after, and this experience helps
him decide that he has no interest in filing a lawsuit against the bar where
Vicki met up with the man who killed her.
I know James Eder as an adjunct professor teaching
philosophy at my college. Having a personal connection with him may make his
story especially moving for me, but his memoir should be gripping for many
readers. One element that makes it unique and different from other such
memoirs is his grappling with his distant relation with God. Although he was
brought up in a religious background, he had strong doubts about the truth of
religion, and as he was going through this nightmare, his doubts only grew.
Yet it is also clear that he yearned for comfort from God, and wondered whether
his parenting had caused God to punish him. Even after these many years, he
ends the book explaining that through his study of philosophy, he is still
engaged in a search for God, and this is still part of his attempt to make
sense of the loss of his daughter.
© 2003 Christian Perring. All
Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities
Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also
editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on
philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.