Interview with writer Mark Pendergrast

Writer Mark Pendergrast is chatting with me
today about his new non-fiction psychology book, Memory Warp: How the Myth of Repressed Memory Arose and Refuses to Die (Upper
Access, 2017).
scholar and science writer Mark Pendergrast has written well-researched,
critically acclaimed nonfiction books about a wide range of subjects. His books
include The Most Hated Man in America;
Memory Warp; The Repressed Memory Epidemic; Uncommon Grounds; For God, Country
and Coca-Cola; Inside the Outbreaks; City on the Verge; Mirror Mirror;
others. He lives in Colchester, Vermont. He can be reached through his website,
Welcome, Mark. Please tell
us about your current release.
The repressed-memory
craze that tore apart millions of families in the 1980s and ̛90s has been
repudiated by the consensus of scientists who study human memory. However, Mark
Pendergrast, who helped to expose this scourge more than twenty years ago in
his book Victims of Memory, now revisits the subject, and finds that it
is coming back, perhaps as virulent as ever, turning loving family
relationships into nightmarish battlegrounds. Pendergrast warns that we face
great risks as individuals, families, and society at large if we fail to learn
from—and halt—the resurgence of this shocking episode of our recent past.
What inspired you to write this book?
Like many
critics of repressed memory therapy, I thought that most of the cases stopped
in the late 1990s, but I realized that it is an on-going epidemic, and that new
generations of journalists, therapists, and patients don’t know what happened
25 years ago. I documented how this disaster arose and why it has not gone
away. I also discovered that repressed memories were heavily involved in the
case of former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, which led me to write
another new book, The Most Hated Man in
America: Jerry Sandusky and the Rush to Judgment
(Sunbury Press, 2017).
Excerpt from Memory Warp: How the Myth of Repressed Memory Arose and Refuses to Die:
“Before” and “after” therapy
letters such as these became all too common.
  Dear Dad,
   Just a note to thank you for taking such good care
of me and my friend during our much-too-short stay. My friend is impressed and
a bit envious of the loving relationship and open lines of communication which
you and I share….I love you and I’m glad you’re my dad!
  November 1989
    I am writing this letter for two reasons: (i) to
attain closure for myself regarding my relationship with you and (ii) in the
hope that you will seek help before you hurt anyone else the way you hurt me. I
have spent 37 years of my life denying and minimizing the torture that was my
childhood and adolescence…I genuinely hope this letter causes you to seek
help—you are a very sick man. I do not wish to hear from you unless you are
willing to admit the things you did to me and to seek help for your sickness.
It was
ironic that “feminist” therapists were the avatars of this destructive
One retractor
(someone who later realized she had developed false memories due to misguided
therapy) wrote poignantly about her own recovered-memory experience, in which
she became convinced that she had so-called multiple personality disorder. “It
robs women of all power and control over themselves. If I really hated women
and wanted to keep them in a completely powerless and childlike state, the best
way to do that would be to remove their faith and trust in their own minds and
make them dependent.” That is precisely
what happened in this form of “therapy,” which frequently managed, quite
literally, to turn women into helpless, suicidal children clutching their teddy
bears and shrieking in imagined pain and horror. The repressed-memory hunt
breathed new life into one of the most damaging and sexist traditions in our
culture—the subtle message to women that they can gain power and attention
primarily through the “victim” role.
It is difficult to convey how saturated
our culture became with the repressed memory phenomenon. In her 2010 memoir, My Lie, retractor Meredith Maran
described her quest to recall how her father must have abused her. “I drove
back across San Francisco Bay [in 1989], back to Planet Incest, where the
question was always incest and the answer was always incest and the explanation
was always incest, and no one ever asked, ‘Are you sure?’”
What exciting story are you working on
I am
working on a novel set in the time of Jesus.
When did you first consider yourself a
I have
enjoyed writing since high school, and I started to write freelance articles
for a local weekly newspaper in 1972, but it never occurred to me that I could
write books and make a living that way. Yet I’ve been doing it since 1991.
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s
your work day like?
Yes, I
write full-time.
What would you say is your interesting
writing quirk?
I don’t
really have a “writing quirk,” but when I get absorbed in writing something, my
wife can hold an entire conversation with me that I don’t hear.
As a child, what did you want to be when
you grew up?
I never
thought about it. I don’t think I really wanted to grow up. I still don’t.
Anything additional you want to share
with the readers?
The moral of Memory Warp is: The road to hell is
indeed paved with the best of intentions. Be very careful when you are on a
crusade. Educate yourselves. Research the facts. First, do no harm.
Thank you for joining me today, Mark.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.