Rift: A Memoir of Breaking Away from Christian Patriarchy – Cait West

Rift: A Memoir of Breaking Away from Christian Patriarchy by Cait West
Published by Eerdmans on April 30, 2024
Genres: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Social Justice
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“A powerful meditation on what it means to be trapped and what it takes to break free.” Publishers Weekly STARRED Review

A gripping memoir about coming of age in the stay-at-home daughter movement and the quest to piece together a future on your own terms.

Raised in the Christian patriarchy movement, Cait West was homeschooled and could only wear clothes her father deemed modest. She was five years old the first time she was told her swimsuit was too revealing, to go change. There would be no college in her future, no career. She was a stay-at-home daughter and would move out only when her father allowed her to become a wife. She was trained to serve men, and her life would never be her own.

Until she escaped.

In Rift, Cait West tells a harrowing story of chaos and control hidden beneath the facade of a happy family. Weaving together lyrical meditations on the geology of the places her family lived with her story of spiritual and emotional manipulation as a stay-at-home daughter, Cait creates a stirring portrait of one young woman’s growing awareness that she is experiencing abuse. With the ground shifting beneath her feet, Cait mustered the courage to break free from all she’d ever known and choose a future of her own making.

Rift is a story of survival. It’s also a story about what happens after you survive. With compassion and clarity, Cait explores the complex legacy of patriarchal religious trauma in her life, including the ways she has also been complicit in systems of oppression. A remarkable literary debut, Rift offers an essential personal perspective on the fraught legacy of purity culture and recent reckonings with abuse in Christian communities.

This beautifully written memoir tells the author’s story of surviving Christian patriarchy, the Stay at Home Daughters movement, and her father’s emotional abuse. She directs her story both to people with similar backgrounds in the same fundamentalist circles, and to readers outside of this extreme subculture within Christianity. Cait West illustrates her experiences through vivid personal narratives, explains the beliefs and dynamics that robbed her of agency, and intersperses the memoir elements with experimental reflections on geology and different geographic features in the places where she has lived. Although she moves through her story in a primarily linear way, she incorporates lots of different elements in short, essay-like chapters, and also includes quotations and analyses from different books, sermons, and other teaching resources that promoted the toxic belief structure she escaped.

Rift: A Memoir of Breaking Away from Christian Patriarchy is a unique, thoughtful memoir. West writes with honesty and compassion, clearly calling out toxic belief systems and abusive practices without heaping shame and blame on others, and without trying to annihilate her past self. I found this book very engaging and hard to put down, and even days afterwards, I could vividly picture many of the scenes that she described. She creates a very strong sense of place through her writing, particularly when she writes about her former life in Hawaii. She could have just depended on readers’ cultural familiarity with this place from photographs or tourism, but she describes it in a way that makes it feel incredibly immediate and vivid, all in a way that feels integral to the story she is telling and the sensory details of what she experienced.

This book will appeal to people who are personally healing from similar harm, and to those who enjoy reading memoirs from the perspectives of people who have left cults. However, because many readers will approach this book as something sensational that will confirm their biases, I wish that West had more clearly delineated how extreme her subculture was. Other people’s positive, normal experiences with Christian homeschooling do not negate her trauma in any way, but because some readers will want to generalize her experiences, I wish that West had made it clearer just how fringe so much of her background was within conservative evangelicalism, not just in society at large.

I also felt that some of the sections towards the end were rushed. West shares snapshots and reflections about her escape and her healing process, but these chapters cover the course of years without the level of detail that many readers will want about her initial escape and entry into a normal life. It’s her life and her story, and she doesn’t have to share any details that she doesn’t want to, but I still think that parts of the final stage of the book feel scattered and random, after the taut, focused narrative from earlier in the book. Regardless, Rift is a powerful, deeply personal story, and I would recommend this to people who have endured similar traumas or want to better understand the subculture that she escaped.