Truddi Chase (& The Troops) died March 10, 2010.
Click here to read their obituary and sign their memorial guestbook.

Books of the Times: When Rabbit Howls

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
New York Times, July 6, 1987

This review was written by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of the New York Times. You may reach him at this address: The New York Times, 229 West 43rd Street, New York, NY, 10036. We are not in contact with Mr. Lehmann-Haupt and do not know his email address. The views expressed in this article are Mr. Lehmann-Haupt's, not ours.

WHEN RABBIT HOWLS By the Troops for Truddi Chase. Introduction and epilogue by Robert A. Phillips Jr., Ph.D. 415 pages. Dutton, $18.95

"For many this book will seem both unbelievable and frightening. It challenges much of what is commonly believed about human personality, and is far beyond most people's experience. it may even seem to have the flavor of science fiction." So writes Robert A. Phillips Jr., a psychotherapist, in his introduction to "When Rabbit Howls", an autobiography by the "Troops for Truddi Chase," as the title page of the book would have it.

Though his words are strong, they seem mild when you consider what he's writing about. So alien, scary and incredible is "When Rabbit Howls" that it's a lot easier to discredit than it is to defend.

First, it purports to be the autobiography of a "multiple personality", a condition that is bound to arouse one's skepticism despite Mr. Phillips's claim for a "Growing body of empirical data demonstrating" its "validity" as well as the decision by "mental health professionals" to list the condition "as a "clinical and diagnostic category in the American Psychiatric Associations "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (1980).

As Mr. Phillips writes "A number of books have been written by survivors of child sexual abuse, and a few about multiple personalities." The most notable of the latter were "The Three Faces of Eve", written by the therapists involved in the process of psychotherapy", "Sybil", "written by a professional writer who attempted to recreate a total early life experience and a lengthy period of psychotherapy," and "The Minds of Billy Milligan", the result of "interviews done by a professional writer." "When Rabbit Howls" is "the only book I am aware of that has been written by a victim of child sexual abuse who developed multiple personalities."

A further reason for skepticism is the scant corroboration of the subject's story. We get Mr. Phillips's word that he treated one "Truddi Chase." We get the photograph of a handsome, somewhat vacant-looking woman on the back of the dust jacket. We get samples on the book's endpapers of "her" many different handwritings. But there is nothing but his own belief to confirm that the facts behind her horrifying story are true.

Finally, there is the autobiography itself. It reads like an amateurish novel and recounts the emergence of no fewer than 92 separate personalities who inhabit Ms. Chase. As these multitudes define themselves they reveal the buried sexual traumas experienced by the physical form of Ms. Chase and the younger members of her "troops." These abuses were inflicted by a stepfather, who raped Ms. Chase when she was 2 years old and continued to abuse her sexually into her teens.

Putting aside that the "troops" maintain that they are able to dim light bulbs, blow fuses, impede electrical circuits and read Mr. Phillips's mind, there is serious flaw in the logic of the narrative. Somehow the "troops" know and are able to include in their narrative what their therapist, Mr. Phillips, is doing when he's not in the presence of his patient. Much of the narrative is even written from his point of view. Yet nowhere in Ms. Chase's lengthy acknowledgements is there any mention of his having collaborated on the manuscript. Even if there is a plausible explanation for his autonomous presence in the story, the effect is at best confusing, and at worst downright phony.

So why should anyone even consider believing "When Rabbit Howls"? One answer came to me at a low point in my reading of the book, as I was recording in my notes an especially clunky passage: "The woman wasn't there as Twelve took the man deeper into himself, laying out ponderous truths in a wondering fashion, some of it expressed by the thought transference of the one who lived in the Tunnel and some of it her own."

I asked myself why I was even bothering to watch the author's language. After all, if this really was the work of 92 separate personalities, then why bother to worry about a controlling intelligence, let alone a taste for good prose? The wonder is that it got recorded coherently. That it happens to resemble bad fiction, while unfortunate, should not really be held against it. One could even argue that the less sense it makes the more likely it is to be genuine. Anyone trying to perpetrate a fraud would surely have done a slicker job than this.

Of course, such a line of reasoning doesn't prove Truddi Chase's case is genuine, only that she herself and her "troops" believe her to be a case of multiple personality. Mr. Phillips also believes, and in speculating how she got that way, makes an interesting and not implausible case that it is specifically incest that produces the condition. By raping the child when she was 2, the stepfather "killed" what Mr. Phillips calls "the first-born child", and created a vacuum that some form of personality generator was left to fill. In Ms. Chase's case 92 "people" were required to fill the void. In other cases, he asserts, several hundred have been discovered.

Whether or not we readers believe "When Rabbit Howls", the document makes fascinating reading, just because it is so self-contradictory in every sense of the expression. One of Mr. Phillips's assertions that can be corroborated is: "Current figures on sexual child abuse are now at a definite twenty percent of our population, or fifty million." If this is true, then even if "When Rabbit howls" is nothing more than a clumsily contrived public service announcement, it has, simply by raising our awareness, succeeded in justifying its strange and ambiguous existence.

This review was written by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of the New York Times. You may reach him at this address: The New York Times, 229 West 43rd Street, New York, NY, 10036. We are not in contact with Mr. Lehmann-Haupt and do not know his email address.

Psychology Today (slightly better) review of When Rabbit Howls
Click here for our review of When Rabbit Howls
Washington Post article on Truddi&, July 25, 1987.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer article on Truddi&, June 27, 1987.
Review of When Rabbit Howls in the Philadelphia Inquirer, July 21, 1987.
Multiple Personality, Narrative in When Rabbit Howls Deborah Carlin looks at the narrative structure, examining how the Troops came to tell their story.
When Rabbit Howls at everything2.com

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