What Is Gone book cover
Texas Tech University Press

"What Is Gone" by Amy Knox Brown, Texas Tech University Press, 224 pages, $29.95

From the vantage point of South Lincoln in the early 1980s, the world seems like a pretty safe place. The fallacy of this worldview is the premise of "What Is Gone," a memoir by Lincoln author Amy Knox Brown.

Growing up in a country club neighborhood, Brown was sheltered from danger and “how it hovered around you, everywhere, how it was arbitrary, capricious.” She was first confronted with the reality of violence when, in 1985, she was assaulted in dark alley in midtown Omaha.

Confronted by her attacker, Brown’s instinct was to run, but she hesitated, feeling paranoid, rude and racist. Her false sense of security ultimately led to a brutal rape that tainted her perception of the environment that had always protected her.

Brown did not fully internalize the circumstances of her attack until 1992, when the disappearance of University of Nebraska-Lincoln student, Candice Harms, cast a malevolent shadow on Lincoln, a city that had always seemed impervious to violence. As she expounds on the events that led to the abduction and murder of Harms, Brown questions her long held belief that, “like the city of Lincoln itself, [she] was safe”.

Lincoln is more than a benign setting for Brown’s memoir. As her narrative unfolds, the city takes on the characteristics of a participant in the events of the book. Brown’s memory and perception are inseparable from the Lincoln landscape, and she feels betrayed when she finally acknowledges that the city itself could allow violence to happen.

As inhabitants of Lincoln, we are all actual or potential characters in Brown’s story. She moves the reader through and around the city, conjuring ghosts from our shared past and challenging our perceptions of implicit safety. "What Is Gone" forces us to see our community and the world from a new perspective.

Erin Willis is curator of the Jane Pope Geske Heritage Room of Nebraska Authors at Bennett Martin Library.

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