What has started as a memoir of the a personal story of rape, attitude and condemnation for author Maureen Ann Richards Kostalnick has turned into a first novel for the Avon native.
The story, based in Avon, is a psuedo work of fiction with roots based on a true incident of two girls raped in Avon.
“It’s fiction, but based on a true crime,” Kostalnick said, adding that the coming of age story in the 1940s and 50s is “99.9 percent true”
The Butternut Tree is being re-eleased in the Cleveland area this week and Lostalnick will hold a book signing in at Strip Steakhouse in Avon April 6.
Although fiction, the book draws strong parallels to Kostalnick’s upbringing in Avon where she was baptized, made Communion and married at St. Mary’s Church. Her mother never spoke of details of the attack on her and another Avon girl, but the repercussions were felt for decades.
“It shows the generational effect of rape,’ Kostalnick said. “It doesn’t stop there. It goes on. That person (raped) is somebody’s mother, daughter, sister.”
Her mother's attacker was eventually sentenced to four months in jail.
The story opens with the sexual assault of Laura Richards in Avon in 1928 and how as a result, her reputation was ruined and she became a tarnished woman.
The story then moves to 1986 when Maureen, who tells the story first hand, finds her mother’s attacker in a nursing home and confronts him. The confrontation transport hers back to the 1940s and the sounds of St. Mary’s Church bells and the story of the Richards family, living in a dilapidated farm house scarcely big enough to contain two people, let alone her grandparents, mother, sister, and two brothers.
Real life parallels
"After Maureen’s father divorced her mother, the townspeople’s denial of Laura Richard’s sexual assault turned to condemnation; and the town shunned Maureen and her family. Maureen’s mother took to her bed, unable to face herself or the world," the book's jacket reads.
In real life, Kostalnick said her family was torn apart by the attack, which occurred before her mother got married. Similar to the book, her father left her mother and their two sons and daughters.
“My father left, I don’t think he could handle what happened,’ Kostalnick said, adding she didn’t learn of the attack until she was 50.
“I knew there was something wrong with me, but didn’t know what,” she said. “These days it’s talked about and talked through; back then it wasn’t. After it happened my mother stayed in bed a lot. She received shock treatment.”
The book is being marketed to schools across the country, primarily to junior high school students.”
“It’s being compared to The Help and To Kill A Mockingbird,” Kostalnick said. “There’s language in there, but it’s real.”
Maureen’s “partner in crime” in the book is Billy, modeled in real life after her one of her best childhood friends, Billy Smith, Mayor Jim Smith’s brother.
“We were good friends with the Smith family,” Kostalnick said.
Avon readers who grew up in that era will quickly recognize the ong-ago town.
“I’ve had people contact me and say, ‘It takes me right back there,’” she said.
Kostalnick, a member of Avon High School’s class of 1959, said she grew up dirt poor, but remembers having a wonderful childhood.
“I was a happy kid; I loved my life,” she said.
She left the greater Cleveland area permanently in 1980 and now resides in the East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area with her Avon High School sweetheart, Chuck, who she married in 1960.
The couple, who spent years in Avon and Avon Lake, have three grown children, Kathie Antrim also an author, and sons Chuck II and Daniel John. She was a humor writer for American Greetings before leaving to live in Denver with her family and becoming a sign language interpreter.
She is planning a sequel to the book, called The Class of ’59, based on the Avon High School class she graduated with.
“Avon, look out,” Kostalnick said with a laugh.
Kostalnick will be signing her book at Strip Steakhouse on Detroit Road starting at 2 p.m. She expects to see Mayor Smith as well as Billy Smith at the signing.