Somewhere within the evocative cover of Why I Killed Peter lies the terrible truth of the pain and heartbreak caused by abuse. The way we carry things, people, and events around with us, until they’re almost a second, blended part of our own body, is there in the blended shadow of two faces, combined in one. The image suggests that the title is not quite what it might seem initially…this is no murder tale.
Nor is it a tale of abuse. Well, it is, to some extent, but it is beyond that. It’s an honest, wrenching memoir of one man’s coming to terms with his own past and realizing that what he buried within his psyche years ago isn’t really dead. It’s still there, causing him pain and affecting his life and his relationships. It’s that part of him that has to be killed. And to do that, he must learn to forgive himself.
Olivier story begins with his childhood in France. He spends much of his youth with his grandparents in Belgium—the air is cleaner there, and Olivier is a sickly child. His parents are hippies, of a sort—freethinking, nonjudgmental, and eager to be progressive and thought of as such. They invite Peter into their home and their lives because he shares their way of thinking, even though he’s a priest. That fact that Olivier’s parents are ardent atheists doesn’t get in the way of the friendship; Peter is cool and fun, despite being a priest. He becomes heavily involved in the family and in Olivier’s life.
The sexual abuse first occurs on a camping trip, and Olivier keeps silent about what he’s experienced. The pain of that day, and subsequent days, eats away at him, though, and Olivier carries it like a ball and chain throughout his life. The emotional apex of the book—consider this a spoiler alert if you don’t want to know before reading the story—is vivid and illustrative. Olivier and Alfred—whose simple and fragile art perfectly complements the story with its subtly shaded hues—take a trip to find Peter, now an old man, and tell him about their upcoming book, which will reveal, after all this time, what he did. The look on his face captures the full weight of the story. There’s nothing more to say.
To say Why I Killed Peter is elegant may sound somewhat strange for a book of its kind. Yet it is. It’s not overly sentimental or overwrought, which it very well could have been. Instead, it’s to the point and direct—and that says it all.
Reviewed by John Hogan on October 1, 2008
Why I Killed Peter