J.K. Stein’s “The Director: a memoir” provides readers with a thoughtful and emotional experience as they follow her unedited journal entries about the sexual abuse she faced, and the tactics of power, manipulation and self-hatred used against her.
Stein, at the time of her journaling, was a recent college graduate living in New York. She was approached at her job at Starbucks by a man who she refers to as “The Director” throughout her memoir. He invites her to join the cast of his next movie, convincing her to meet up with him multiple times throughout the “pre-production” phase to form her character and role. He uses this time to manipulate her into sexual situations. Stein’s journal takes readers on the journey of her eating disorder and abusive relationship that persists during her time with The Director.
In light of the #MeToo movement, Stein dedicated her memoir “to those who broke their silence and to those still searching for their voice.” Even the book’s foreword creates intrigue, asking readers what to contemplate when reflecting on the implications of her experiences with consent.
“While I do not blame the victim, I do recognize the parts I played in each one of my interactions with The Director,” Stein said in her book. “This memoir is an attempt to bring forth the painful truths about sexual abuse, while examining the ways in which I did and did not give consent. Consent is more complicated than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ and it is imperative that this become part of the #metoo dialogue.”
The points Stein brings up in her foreword allow for an insightful reading experience. Being able to examine her emotions, responses, motivations and inner conflict helps to understand how the #MeToo movement is nuanced. It was eye-opening to be able to see a reflection on the situations Stein was put in without the complications of hindsight bias. This perspective was enhanced by the rawness of her writing, uninhibited by typical literary devices that often dramatize and romanticize situations. While her writing is not without flair–throughout the novel she does express her passion for writing–it still captures an openness and authenticity that can truly be felt in a diary intended to be seen only by the writer. Her choice in publishing her journal entries as is, rather than rewriting them, was a superior decision.
The descriptions of both Stein and The Director, as well as her then-boyfriend, David, paired with this uninhibited writing choice made me realize that these are people and not characters, which was a powerful revelation in the experience of reading this memoir. This added to the heaviness of the reality of sexual abuse, much like seeing the great number of individuals who repeat the phrase “#metoo” online. Stein’s foreword mentions a similar epiphany her partner had when she shared this story with him. Her epilogue seems to help the reader, and her alike, find closure in the story on many levels, as she describes how she has tried to heal since then and how she now finds compassion with her past self.
Stein’s memoir is effective in challenging society’s ideas of what is consent, what is sexual abuse and what a victim looks like. If you are searching for a clearer viewpoint on what it means to be a part of #MeToo or want to read about an experience much like your own, “The Director” is an enlightening, yet short read packed with conflict and insight on sexual abuse and consent in unequal power dynamics against others, society and the self.
“The Director: A Memoir” is available online and in-store.