Eve Ensler Channels Her Father in ‘The Apology’
The Apology By Eve Ensler (Bloomsbury Publishing, 128 pp. $22)
The dedication of Eve Ensler’s The Apology reads, “For every woman still waiting for an apology.” She might have added, “And for every man who doesn’t know how to begin.” Ensler, 66, best known for her play The Vagina Monologues, has spent her whole life coming to terms with the sexual, physical and emotional abuse she endured at the hands of her father, Arthur Ensler, beginning when she was 5. In this slim but powerful volume, Ensler crafts, in her father’s voice, the letter of apology she’ll never receive from a man dead 31 years—even if he had been the kind of person to deliver one in the first place. With unflinching, often startlingly poetic prose, Ensler digs into Arthur’s past, excavating his abuse-filled, love-starved childhood and tracing the evolution of the sadistic narcissism that finally, brutally, found its target in his youngest child. She also recreates through his eyes and in harrowing detail her own physical and emotional journey, acknowledging her self-destructive behaviors that had their roots in his.
By endowing Arthur with a degree of self-knowledge that can only come from years of therapy, it is clear that whatever work Ensler has done on herself, she has also spent a lot of time figuring out what made her father tick. He addresses her from a paralyzing, suffocating purgatory bordered by barely controlled rage, mirroring Ensler’s emotional state for most of her life. It also becomes clear just how closely Ensler feels their identities are intertwined. Ensler’s potent letter, however, seeks understanding, not domination.
The Apology is so richly imagined, so thorough and all encompassing, that it lands as truth. In taking her father apart psychologically, Ensler succeeds in exposing and unmasking him—the very thing narcissists fear most—and in the process, she frees them both.
Joanne Sydney Lessner is an author and playwright. Her musical, Einstein’s Dreams, premieres Off Broadway this fall.