In the mid-1980s, Meredith Maran, a thirtysomething wife and mother of two young boys, came to believe that, when she was a little girl, her father had molested her. She wasn’t absolutely certain. She didn’t remember any such heinous act, nor did she have any evidence, outside of vague nightmares, strange “flashbacks” and intensely complicated feelings about her father. But she did have a Greek chorus of women thinking similar thoughts, including feminist psychologists, activists and therapy patients, a number of whom she knew personally in the San Francisco Bay-area lesbian community that is her home.

Ms. Maran, who recanted her accusation a decade later, does not go easy on herself in “My Lie,” a memoir of her journey through what she calls “Incest Nation.” As a journalist for the San Jose Mercury News and the editor of a book on the subject, she admits that she “helped to spread the panic” as incest accusations raged in the 1980s and early 1990s. Ms. Maran gullibly embraced all the gothic charges that occupied that hysterical time: Satanic rituals at day-care centers, multiple personalities caused by long-forgotten traumas, the claim that one in three girls was a victim of sexual abuse.

She also doesn’t shy from describing the poison she injected into her own family. Her growing obsessions helped to break up her marriage as she began to think of her sympathetic husband as another “predatory male.” She deprived her boys of their beloved grandfather. Terrified by paternal perfidy so close to home, her young niece began to fear her own father. That father, Ms. Maran’s brother, fretted that he, too, had been victim of the abuse.

The most aggrieved victim of the story, the self-involved but harmless patriarch, Stan Maran, spent his last decade before descending into Alzheimer’s knowing that his daughter believed the worst thing a daughter can believe about a father and knowing that his once happy, now traumatized, third wife was considering divorce.

“I’d found the perpetrator and it was me,” Ms. Maran concedes. Still, for all the soul-searching, “My Lie” is as much a defense as a mea culpa. She interviews neuroscientists about the chemical roots of groupthink but fails to ask why, before she had any inkling of her putative abuse, when she was married to the likable father of her two sons, she was drawn to a group of radical feminists, “wommin” whose lives were defined by therapy sessions, self-defense classes and the incest-survivor’s bible, “The Courage to Heal.”

After her marriage ended, Ms. Maran had a long, live-in relationship with a clearly disturbed woman who was convinced that she had been molested by her father (who had died when she was 5) and who was haunted by fantasies of dark-robed people chanting at forest campfires when she was a child. Neuroscience can’t explain Ms. Maran’s decision to pick this woman, belatedly, as the stepmother of her sons.

Ms. Maran, who wrote about her involvement with leftist politics in a previous memoir, concludes here that her lie about her own personal experience was no different from the belief of some people that President Barack Obama is a Muslim or that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. History is “rife with examples of the damage done when millions of people become convinced of the same lie at the same time.” This is political posturing substituting for self-knowledge, a distinction you’d hope the author of a book called “My Lie” would have learned.

Kay Hymowitz, Wall Street Journal


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