The Backstory

Reliving the storm

Woman poses for photo in a chair. One hand is in her lap and the other has her elbow on the arm of the chait and her fist resting on her chin.

Photography by Zihui Song

When Genevieve Scott, Com’01, first arrived at Queen’s, she passed a series of homemade signs as her parents’ car approached the Kingston campus. 

“Fathers, thank you for dropping off your virgin daughters” was a typical one. She recalls feeling awkward, but not offended. 

“I was prepared to accept that this was what I was getting myself into,” Ms. Scott says. “I prided myself on the fact that I could take – and make – jokes like that.”

Looking back, she realizes incidents like this were the product of a confusing era. 

“We believed that sexism was a thing of the past,” she says. “We thought that by participating in that humour, we were exercising our power. We didn’t understand what was really happening.”

When the #MeToo movement gained momentum a few years ago, Ms. Scott reflected on how much the world had changed. “I realize now, of course, that there was so much sexism and misogyny in the way we socialized,” she says. She explores these themes – and the progress we’ve made over the years – in her second novel, The Damages.

Ms. Scott set the first half of The Damages at Regis University, a fictionalized version of Queen’s, in 1997-98. Anyone who was in Kingston at that time will undoubtedly remember the ice storm that left much of Eastern Canada and parts of northern New York and New England without power for a week and a half in January 1998. For Ms. Scott and her peers, it was an unforgettable adventure. 

“I made a lot of friends during the ice storm,” she says. “It was exciting to be at the edge of a potentially dangerous situation and thrust together, living in the few dorms that had power, all sharing rooms.”

The book tells the story of Ros, an insecure young woman who arrives at Regis eager to make new friends and reinvent herself as a “cool person.” The ice storm unleashes a series of events that destroys her social status and forces her to drop out of school. In the second half of the book, Ros, now in her early 40s and quarantined during the pandemic, learns that her ex-partner (and former Regis friend) faces sexual assault charges stemming from their university days. 

Although the circumstances are more extreme in the fictionalized version, Ms. Scott says the second half is an honest account of her own growth. “It’s my reconciliation with that time, especially with the stories that were emerging from the #MeToo movement,” she says. “I wanted to understand every woman’s experience. In a lot of ways, this book is about Ros recognizing that another person’s trauma isn’t for her to judge, and that what someone went through, if it was painful, then it was painful. It’s my personal experience of wanting to be a better ally, because when I was in university, I don’t think it occurred to me that I should look out for women at all.”

The Damages is now available through Penguin Random House Canada.

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