Houston Matters

How a violent attack as a young student inspired Chris Cander’s latest novel

As a young student, Houston writer Chris Cander was the victim of a violent attack — something she hardly spoke of for years. She’s opening up about the experience and using it as the basis of her latest novel, “The Young of Other Animals.”

Houston writer Chris Cander shown with her latest novel, "The Young of Other Animals."
Houston writer Chris Cander’s latest novel, “The Young of Other Animals,” is inspired by a violent attack Cander experienced as a young woman.

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When Houston writer Chris Cander was a 19-year-old college student, she was attacked by a man who said he wanted to kill her.

“He told me that nobody would ever find my body,” Cander said.

She escaped and, over the years, told very few people about the experience. But now, she's being very public about it since she used a similar story as the basis for her latest novel, The Young of Other Animals.

RELATED: Chris Cander explores the emotional “Weight Of A Piano”

The novel tells the story of a young woman named Paula who experiences a very similar attack and, like Cander, struggles with feelings of shame. It’s difficult to find safe relationships where she can open up about what she’s enduring.

That’s where Cander’s story diverges from that of Paula, who has a challenging relationship with her mother, who herself is dealing with the recent death of her philandering husband, Paula’s father, and some trauma from her own past.

Houston writer Chris Cander
Michael Hagerty/Houston Public Media
Houston writer Chris Cander’s novels include “A Gracious Neighbor,” “The Weight of a Piano,” and now “The Young of Other Animals.”

Cander tells Houston Matters producer Michael Hagerty about how she subconsciously dealt with the trauma in the years since. At different times she was a bodybuilder, she worked as a firefighter, and she became trained to teach self defense.

“Someone pointed it out to me,” she said. “Someone said, ‘You know, you’ve been turning yourself into your own bodyguard all these years.’ And it hadn’t occurred to me until then. I just thought it was something I was interested in and naturally good at. But I completely agree that there was a subconscious drive on my part to never experience something like that again.”

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Cander also explains what it was like finally telling her own mother (who’s much more supportive than Paula’s mother in the story) about the attack decades later as the novel was being completed.

And she discusses how writing a fictional portrayal of something similar to what she endured — and doing so many years later — gave her the emotional and chronological distance to tell the story in a clearheaded way.

Cander will discuss the book at an event at Brazos Bookstore Feb. 1 at 6:30 p.m.