Book Review/Recommendation: When Rabbit Howls

Here’s another long one.

Trigger warning: Okay, before I say anything more at all about this book, I need to make one thing clear. This book deals with, in no uncertain terms: incest, severe sexual abuse of a child, severe physical abuse of a child, and just outright brutal abuse of a child on all levels. When the step-father in the book is termed “sick”, I’m going to go ahead and warn that he really, really, is. There are things in this book that I honestly had to go back and reread, because at first, I didn’t realize what was actually happening. I sat there thinking, “There’s no way this is what I think it is. There’s no way someone could do this to a child.” Well, he did.  With that said…

When Rabbit Howls

Summary: “Black Katherine is the willful guardian of the children. Sewer Mouth voices rage in a torrent of four-letter words. Twelve is the sensitive, artistic child.

The cover from the 1990, mass market edition.

The cover from the 1990, mass market edition.

Rabbit doesn’t speak, but only howls in pain…

These are some of the personalities that live within Truddi Chase. For her entire life they have protected her from the

memories of unspeakable acts of child abuse and incest that she endured for years. To escape the horror of the violen

t abuse, the two-year-old child “went to sleep”- and created the inner world of “the Troops,” the ninety-two voices that shielded her from the pain, but she never fully knew existed until she established her career, got married, and started a family.

Only now has Truddi Chase unlocked the door to the terrifying crimes of the past.

Like Sybil, this is a spellbinding journey through the fragmented world of multiple personality. But unlike anything you’ve ever read, this unique book has over ninety authors. For all of Truddi Chase’s “Troops” speak out to tell her story. All but one…”

-From the summary of the 1990 mass-market edition.

Genre: Non-Fiction

Author: The Troops for Truddi Chase, with an Introduction and Epilogue by Robert A. Phillips, Jr., Ph.D.

Publisher: Penguin


Comments: Okay, I guess the first thing to get out of the way is my own thoughts on Dissociative Identity Disorder in general.  With that said, yes, I do believe that Dissociative Identity Disorder (it’s still referred to in the book as Multiple Personality Disorder, since they were working on a much older version of the DSM (III) The change occurred with (IV) was released) is a real diagnosis. My personal interest with the disorder is the questions of “how exactly do these personalities emerge? How are the ‘born’, as some of the Troops call it?” There’s also the question of why do some people “split” and some don’t? Some people say it has to do with the creativity of intelligence of the “original” or “first-born”, but can that be tested once the mind has been fragmented by alters?

Okay… so after that. I’ll try not to go off continue going off psych ideas and that kind of thing. DID fascinates me, and so this book really held my attention.

It’s not an easy book to read, I’ll say that much, and I don’t just mean the topic itself or the abuse. Yes, the sections that describe how the stepfather (who is never named) treated Truddi as a child are hard to read just for their content alone, but I’ll come to that. What I mean here is that the book is written by Truddi’s alters, the Troops. It stays consistently in third person, but there are changes in tone, and there are multiple speakers. I had to reread sections more than once to make sure that I was really understanding what was going on.  It gets easier to read as the book goes on, not just because you get used to the style, but also as Truddi and the Troops go through therapy and there is more cohesion among their ranks, which, in turn, seems to bring more cohesion to the story as they tell it.

And I think that’ what made this book so appealing to me. This was not just a story about someone living with DID, it was the story of those alters becoming aware of one another, because often, not only is the original not aware of the alters, but the alters are not always aware of each other. Reading as the alters became aware, and more tolerant of each other, is fascinating.

Some parts of the book are still difficult to understand. The parts about the mind are, to put it lightly, complicated. Even today, we only understand about 10% of how the “average” human mind works. Think about someone with 92 other people living in her head, and then think how easy it would be to make sense of that. In fact, that’s another key element of the book. What is “normal” in reference to the human mind? How can we categorize “normal” or “abnormal” when we know so little about it? Truddi, or the woman that the troops have constructed to take her place, constantly fears that she is insane, because her mind, measured against her husband’s or her daughter’s, is “abnormal.”

The Troops themselves are just as fascinating. However, there are a lot of them introduced throughout the story, though not all 92. I kept a running count as new names appeared. I just kept a note with the names, and something about their functions. Sometimes, when one is named, that one mention is all you’ll get of them. Some like, Mable, the Junkman, and the Recorder are only mentioned, and we’re never really shown them “evidencing” themselves. Others, like the Suicidal Warrior and Sixteen only appear a handful of times. Others are “Front-runners”. They appear several times and often they “speak” for others. Catherine, Twelve, Nails, Ten Four and Mean Joe, among others.

And the names. For instance, there’s Catherine, Black Katherine, Lady Catherine, and Sister Mary Catherine. And yes, they are all separate alters.

The most fascinating of all of the Troops is, without a doubt, Ean. The other Troops seem to respect him as someone that “sits above” the others. They never refer to him by name, and consider using it to be a mistake. He is more often referred to as the Irishman, since he has a noticeable brogue. I won’t go into everything that he’s implied to be, but even after finishing the book, he remains an a huge enigma. At the end of the book, in a letter from the Troops to Dr. Phillips, they mention that, even with all that they have learned from and about one another, even they aren’t sure exactly who or what he is. He seems to be able to direct the Troops as he will, and has a penchant for metaphors and turns of phrase that are almost… musical. He also alludes, quite often to war and battles.

It’s never said in the book, nor have I read it anywhere else, but I personally wonder if, given Ean’s repetitive use of battle metaphors, he was the one that styled the alters as the “Troop Formation,” but I, like I said, there’s no evidence that I know of, one way or another.

Also, someone (Ean, most likely) in the Troops likes Tennyson and Longfellow. Hard not to like someone like that.

The one section that was the most confusing was the last chapter. Again, I won’t go into detail, but the situation, as it’s presented, is ambiguous. In his epilogue, Dr. Phillips (“Stanley”, to the Troops) gives what he believes is the more correct explanation. Ean’s comments towards the end seem to agree with Dr. Phillips statements.

The part I’m not particularly sold on is the bits about the energy levels, at least in the extreme cases. But who knows.

Another thing to note is how the Woman perceives the Troops, when they emerge. The book will say, “Twelve was sitting by the table, talking to Mean Joe. Catherine was painting her fingernails, and Sister Mary Catherine was by the window praying,” or something along those lines. The Troops are perceived as separate, physical people, despite the fact that we know they only inhabit one body. I don’t know if that’s something unique to the Troops, if it’s added for the story to make more “sense”, or if it’s a generality among people with DID, but I do find it interesting, either way.

Overall, I would certainly recommend this book, especially if you have an interest in cognitive and abnormal psychology. But I definitely would recommend it even if you’re not in psychology. It’s an extremely interesting read. However, as I said at the beginning of the post, there are several mentions of violent sexual and physical abuse. The stepfather tormented Truddi in increasingly violent and vicious ways.

I definitely recommend the book, but it certainly should be approached with caution.