I didn't know it would be such a painful, gut-wrenching experience to read Tell Me Everything: The Story of a Private Investigation, by Erika Krouse, but it was.
Book-of-the-Month club offered this book, and since I like detective stories, particularly featuring women who figure things out, I chose it, not fully understanding the rage and disgust I would feel while reading it.
But my visceral, emotional reaction doesn't mean that reading Tell Me Everything wasn't worthwhile or important, It was.
The Crux of the Story
In the early 2000s, Erika Krouse was a woman pursuing a writing career, doing temp jobs and struggling to make ends meet. Her claim is that she has a face that makes people want to talk to her, to share their deepest thoughts without her probing. In fact, when she meets Grayson, an attorney, in a bookstore, he hires her as a private investigator on the spot because he finds himself unexpectedly sharing his inner thoughts with her.
(I was so intrigued by this idea, that I spent a few minutes looking to see if there was any research on this. While I found that your brainwaves can be in "sync" with someone, it is not because of your facial features. If Krouse's premise that some people's faces just make others want to talk to them is valid, I haven't yet found the studies that back that up.)
Needing a good job, Krouse accepts the position before asking what kind of cases Grayson works on, only to find out later that he is investigating rapes. This is a problem because Erika Krouse has an incredibly painful past. She was abused by "X," presumably her mother's boyfriend or husband. The first episode happened when Krouse was only 4, and the abuse happened until she was 7. When Krouse told her mother, her mother brushed it off, ignored it, and over the years denied it, irreparably ruining their relationship although Krouse continues to believe she can make her mother understand.
The book focuses on Krouse's work investigating witnesses and finding evidence to help Grayson file suit against a university for a culture nurturing and protecting sexual predators. Football players, coaches, and recruits have been accused of multiple rapes of women on campus or on staff.
In every case, the women making the claims are harassed, fired, or libeled, and few have the courage or stamina to pursue a legal court case. (Can you feel the rage simmering underneath my skin?)
Grayson and Krouse try to prove that the coach and the university had knowledge of these assaults and covered them up.
Krouse's angst is magnified because the rapes on campus are ignored and refuted, just as her own mother ignored and refuted her daughter's abuse. Both storylines run parallel throughout the entire book, and I was consumed with anger at both situations, almost unable to keep reading.
The rage produced by evidence
Krouse is devastated by the lack of concern evidenced by the accused players and the university's obvious disregard for the women. They simply want the football program to remain unscathed. The university has someone on staff to erase football players' legal problems and petty crimes. Krouse's research at the courthouse shows that not one of the players over a period of years has even had a traffic ticket. Recruits are treated to "escorts" via "Daisy," a madame who can link the coach to the crimes and who can prove that she provided women for recruit weekends. Forensic accounting proves that thousands upon thousands of dollars are stockpiled for "recruit weekends," and players are provided with under-the-table cash to use for their entertainment.
And yet, the women who brought suit, are demonized and spit upon for how they are treating the team!
The "players-are-gods-culture" made me writhe in anger, wondering for the millionth time in my life why American society doesn't support and encourage great brains like we do great athletes. (Mine is not a popular stance, but I do have fun imagining what it would be like if universities recruited and encouraged motivated, intellectually-oriented kids not just with a few scholarships, but with money for food, special funds for book and supply-buying, transportation to great libraries and museums around the country, free training camps with great writers and thinkers of the world, and stadium-contests where they were cheered by crowds of thousands. . . Fantasy is fun, you know?)
The rage almost overpowered me by the verdict of the first court case in the book.
Happily, I kept reading.
Thankful for strength and integrity
Hearing about these scuzzy, arrogant, usually-not-smart football players who expected women to fall out their feet made me appreciate the strength and integrity of the other people in the book.
Grayson, the attorney, worked for years, believing that good would win out. Several women bore incredible pain and scrutiny by standing up to the university. Confidential informants risked a lot to give a little information.
I had to focus on that and tell myself that the crimes that Krouse was chronicling were committed by a few rotten apples, not the whole bunch. I had to tell myself that a pervasive culture of abuse could eventually be overcome and that surely, not every football player acted in this reprehensible way.
Flatiron Books, a division of Macmillan also deserves some praise for taking on this book that takes aim at the all-powerful football culture of America and the sensitive subjects of an established culture that consistently denigrated women. As a nod to the potential legal pitfalls of publishing such a book, Krouse has changed the names of most of the key people in the book.
While I was bothered by the fact that the author never named the university, I understand why being unnamed could be important since the beginning line of Krouse's Acknowledgment Section says, "This book was under attack before it even made it to print." She goes on to thank numerous people, including "several others I can't name here for fear of compromising their jobs".
Tell Me Everything is a true-crime-detective story mixed with equal parts personal memoir.
The book, released in March of 2022, is getting stunning reviews:
“Riveting and consistently insightful…Rather than simply demonizing individuals, the author convincingly demonstrates how institutional practices have enabled (and covered up) predatory environments…The personal narrative, interwoven seamlessly alongside the professional one, is equally compelling…An exceptionally well-told, perceptive examination of a sexual abuse scandal and its personal and social relevance.”
—Kirkus (starred review)
“Riveting…Reads like a compelling detective novel…With utmost care and consideration for the victims, some of whom chose not to come forward, Krouse gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at the complications of pursuing a Title IX case…Tell Me Everything is a memorable, highly personal account of a landmark legal case, as well as a thoughtful examination of the long-lasting damage of sexual assault.”
—BookPage (starred review)
“I devoured Tell Me Everything over the course of two breathless days, harrowed and deeply moved. It is at once an exposé, a heart-rending narrative of family trauma and its long legacy, and a thrilling detective story—propulsive as anything by Raymond Chandler but with twice the emotional IQ. This is the most satisfying, urgent book I have read in a long time.”
—Melissa Febos, author of Girlhood
“[A] beautifully written, disturbing and affecting memoir. This is literary nonfiction at a high level.”
—New York Times Book Review
You get the idea.
Tell Me Everything is powerful and painful. Relevant and uncomfortable.
But it was absolutely worth the read, even though I was initially infuriated and disheartened by its story.