A few months ago, the writer Alice Sebold began to experience a kind of vertigo. She looked at a cup on the table, and it no longer appeared solid. Her vision fractured. Objects multiplied. Her awareness of depth shifted suddenly. Sometimes she glanced down and for a split second felt that there was no floor.
Sebold and I had recently begun corresponding, a little more than a year after she learned that the wrong man had been sent to prison, in 1982, for raping her. In 1999, she had published “Lucky,” a best-selling memoir about the rape and the subsequent conviction of a young Black man named Anthony Broadwater. Then she wrote “The Lovely Bones,” a novel about a girl who is raped and murdered, which has been described as the most commercially successful début novel since “Gone with the Wind.” But now Sebold had lost trust in language. She stopped writing and reading. Even stringing together sentences in an e-mail felt like adopting “a sense of authority that I don’t have,” she said.
Sebold, who is sixty, recognized that her case had taken a deeply American shape: a young white woman accuses an innocent Black man of rape. “I still don’t know where to go with this but to grief and to silence and to shame,” she wrote to me.