Drawing from a childhood of trauma and a self-proclaimed “fragmented” psyche, Canadian poet and author Beth Goobie presents The Pain Eater, a relevant story of a teenage girl who is swallowed by the emotional effects of sexual assault and finds a way to confront her fears.
After being attacked by four masked classmates on her way home from a school production during the last school year, fourteen-year-old Maddy Malone finds herself with a deep-kept secret and a hollowed, introverted personality. In an attempt to bury her shame and fear, Maddy retreats into herself and begins digging her fingernails into the backs of her hands and burning her inner thighs with cigarette butts. Maddy is determined to keep her secret, and pushes away her friends, parents, and sister who have noticed the change in Maddy.
With the arrival of the new school year, Maddy takes her resolution to hide into the hallways with the hope that she can remain invisible. As days pass, Maddy is able to identify three of her attackers, and finds that she shares an English class with two of them. The class begins to write a story about a teenage girl named Farang who “eats” the pain of her fellow villagers, and as each student presents his chapter, Farang’s struggle becomes more and more like Maddy’s until Maddy’s secret is on the brink of coming out.
Beth Goobie utilizes a frame story variation throughout The Pain Eater that uses Maddy’s class story of Farang to explore Maddy’s feelings more openly. The emotional similarities written between Maddy and Farang are made suspiciously obvious. While Farang is unallowed to voice her desires, Maddy is unwilling to talk about her secret. When Farang is finally free from having to endure the pain of her community, Maddy is finally willing to confront her attackers and accept support from the people who care about her. Goobie advances the connections between Maddy’s and Farang’s emotions until Maddy finds the courage to stand again, addressing a tender topic with a strong approach to show that sometimes, a person may find healing in their own way and in their own time.