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Slonim Woods 9: A Memoir

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A stunning firsthand account of the creation of a modern cult under conman Larry Ray and the horrifying costs paid by his young victims: his daughter ' s college roommates "Chilling . . . eloquent . . . a powerful portrayal of a young man's ability to emerge whole from an experience intended to break him."--Publishers Weekly In September 2010, at the beginning of the a A stunning firsthand account of the creation of a modern cult under conman Larry Ray and the horrifying costs paid by his young victims: his daughter ' s college roommates "Chilling . . . eloquent . . . a powerful portrayal of a young man's ability to emerge whole from an experience intended to break him."--Publishers Weekly In September 2010, at the beginning of the academic year at Sarah Lawrence College, a sophomore named Talia Ray asked her roommates if her father could stay with them for a while. No one objected. Her father, Larry Ray, was just released from prison, having spent three years behind bars after a conviction during a bitter custody dispute. Larry Ray arrived at the dorm, a communal house called Slonim Woods 9, and stayed for the whole year. Over the course of innumerable counseling sessions and "family meetings," the intense and forceful Ray convinced his daughter's friends that he alone could help them "achieve clarity." Eventually, Ray and the students moved into a small Manhattan apartment, beginning years of manipulation and abuse, as Ray tightened his control over his young charges through blackmail, extortion, and ritualized humiliation. Daniel Barban Levin was one of the original residents of Slonim Woods 9. Ray coached Daniel through a difficult break-up, slowly drawing him into his web. After two years of escalating psychological, physical, and sexual abuse, Daniel found the strength to escape from Ray's influence and take control of his own life. In April 2019, a New York magazine cover story, "The Stolen Kids of Sarah Lawrence," exposed Ray's crimes to the world. In February 2020, he was finally indicted on charges of extortion, sex trafficking, forced labor, and money laundering. Beginning the moment Daniel set foot on Sarah Lawrence's idyllic campus and spanning the two years he spent in the grip of a megalomaniac, this brave, lyrical, and redemptive memoir reveals how a group of friends were led from campus to a cult without the world even noticing.


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A stunning firsthand account of the creation of a modern cult under conman Larry Ray and the horrifying costs paid by his young victims: his daughter ' s college roommates "Chilling . . . eloquent . . . a powerful portrayal of a young man's ability to emerge whole from an experience intended to break him."--Publishers Weekly In September 2010, at the beginning of the a A stunning firsthand account of the creation of a modern cult under conman Larry Ray and the horrifying costs paid by his young victims: his daughter ' s college roommates "Chilling . . . eloquent . . . a powerful portrayal of a young man's ability to emerge whole from an experience intended to break him."--Publishers Weekly In September 2010, at the beginning of the academic year at Sarah Lawrence College, a sophomore named Talia Ray asked her roommates if her father could stay with them for a while. No one objected. Her father, Larry Ray, was just released from prison, having spent three years behind bars after a conviction during a bitter custody dispute. Larry Ray arrived at the dorm, a communal house called Slonim Woods 9, and stayed for the whole year. Over the course of innumerable counseling sessions and "family meetings," the intense and forceful Ray convinced his daughter's friends that he alone could help them "achieve clarity." Eventually, Ray and the students moved into a small Manhattan apartment, beginning years of manipulation and abuse, as Ray tightened his control over his young charges through blackmail, extortion, and ritualized humiliation. Daniel Barban Levin was one of the original residents of Slonim Woods 9. Ray coached Daniel through a difficult break-up, slowly drawing him into his web. After two years of escalating psychological, physical, and sexual abuse, Daniel found the strength to escape from Ray's influence and take control of his own life. In April 2019, a New York magazine cover story, "The Stolen Kids of Sarah Lawrence," exposed Ray's crimes to the world. In February 2020, he was finally indicted on charges of extortion, sex trafficking, forced labor, and money laundering. Beginning the moment Daniel set foot on Sarah Lawrence's idyllic campus and spanning the two years he spent in the grip of a megalomaniac, this brave, lyrical, and redemptive memoir reveals how a group of friends were led from campus to a cult without the world even noticing.

30 review for Slonim Woods 9: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    LLA

    I find it impossible to assign this a star rating. It was a very tough read, at times; and I don't know that I enjoyed it. But it was fascinating, and I am glad that I read it. I find it impossible to assign this a star rating. It was a very tough read, at times; and I don't know that I enjoyed it. But it was fascinating, and I am glad that I read it.

  2. 4 out of 5

    S.

    3.5 or so Sometimes I could follow his thoughts and sometimes I couldn’t … There were times where I wondered why he let himself be so easily convinced to change his mind about his own thoughts, memories, and deeds. Some ppl are entirely a great deal more stubborn than others,and by that I mean their will; and they will not lose their sense of self so easily. It depends on a host of other factors too, maybe, but most important is the sense of self and knowing what kind of person lives inside your h 3.5 or so Sometimes I could follow his thoughts and sometimes I couldn’t … There were times where I wondered why he let himself be so easily convinced to change his mind about his own thoughts, memories, and deeds. Some ppl are entirely a great deal more stubborn than others,and by that I mean their will; and they will not lose their sense of self so easily. It depends on a host of other factors too, maybe, but most important is the sense of self and knowing what kind of person lives inside your heart and mind. You can improve or deteriorate. Whatever you do, you can’t let anyone shake you; or that “you” will crumble. It took Danny a long time to figure out the self and cultists seem to latch on to that. This was pretty creepy, but those involved had to be pretty willing to relinquish their hold on privacy, space, freedom, and independence. There were some real and solid moments of eloquence here and one point where it brings up the question between the difference in poetry and prose. I liked that. Other than that it bordered on true crime and psychologically bizarre.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Yousra & Books

    TW: cult, manipulation, rape, mental and physical abuse, conspiracy, suicide, porn. Please read this book! I just finished reading Daniel's memoir and I'm still confused! Both sad and mad for what happened to him and how easily abuse can go unnoticed and under the radar for years. I can't help but ask why isn't this book more popular? Anyways, I'll write a full length review about it on IG soon but before I do that I want to thank Daniel for opening up about what happened to him and hope he gets th TW: cult, manipulation, rape, mental and physical abuse, conspiracy, suicide, porn. Please read this book! I just finished reading Daniel's memoir and I'm still confused! Both sad and mad for what happened to him and how easily abuse can go unnoticed and under the radar for years. I can't help but ask why isn't this book more popular? Anyways, I'll write a full length review about it on IG soon but before I do that I want to thank Daniel for opening up about what happened to him and hope he gets the justice and acknowledgement he deserves.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Siria

    This was a tough book to read, and is a tough book to write about. In the 2010s, Daniel Barban Levin spent a few years caught up in a cult-like group set up by the father of one of his fellow students at Sarah Lawrence College. The leader, a man called Larry Ray, claimed to be a defence intelligence operative with deep insight into the human psyche, but was in reality a manipulative conman who carried out a long campaign of psychological, physical, and sexual abuse against the circle of people h This was a tough book to read, and is a tough book to write about. In the 2010s, Daniel Barban Levin spent a few years caught up in a cult-like group set up by the father of one of his fellow students at Sarah Lawrence College. The leader, a man called Larry Ray, claimed to be a defence intelligence operative with deep insight into the human psyche, but was in reality a manipulative conman who carried out a long campaign of psychological, physical, and sexual abuse against the circle of people he gathered around him. A number of the incidents Levin describes were so awful that I had to step away from the book for a while. There are certainly more graphic accounts of life in a cult out there, but Levin's recreations of Ray's narcissistic monologues made my skin crawl. I'm glad that Levin eventually got away from the group and was able to rebuild his life, but I do have reservations about the book. Part of that comes down to its structure—there are parts that meander and that aren't as revealing as the author I think believes them to be. The bigger issue though—and it makes me feel terrible to write this—is that I found myself questioning aspects of Levin's narrative. To be clear, I'm not at all doubting that the group Ray led was as abusive as Levin states. However, I didn't entirely buy how Levin presented himself to the reader. A couple of scenes had a whiff of BS to them: particularly one scene where he goes to meet with a former professor, who gushes about how Levin's dissertation reminded her of D.H. Lawrence, how she hasn't been able to stop thinking about his work, and how an essay he'd written as a first-year student had been so brilliant that it had made her reconsider her decision to retire because of it. If that meeting ever happened, I am deeply suspicious that it played out in the way that Levin presents it here.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Esme

    I’ve read a lot of books about cults and feel I have good understanding of how they operate. I have empathy for the folks who find themselves wrapped up in groups like this. But this book…wow, I am struggling to understand what happened here and why. The author’s style – a sort of rambling stream of consciousness -- may be an effort to reflect his thinking at the time. It also may be due to his educational training--an MFA in poetry. (MFA training is something of a cult itself, in my opinion. The I’ve read a lot of books about cults and feel I have good understanding of how they operate. I have empathy for the folks who find themselves wrapped up in groups like this. But this book…wow, I am struggling to understand what happened here and why. The author’s style – a sort of rambling stream of consciousness -- may be an effort to reflect his thinking at the time. It also may be due to his educational training--an MFA in poetry. (MFA training is something of a cult itself, in my opinion. The MFAers are desperate for the approval of whatever somewhat accomplished writer the school finagled into headlining their program to draw in eager students' tuition dollars.) But it left me feeling like he’d left a lot of important details out. Maybe he also did that to protect the other members of the group and spare them the humiliation of having their abuses outlined. I can only guess. I remain perplexed at how a long conversation in a Starbucks became this all-encompassing, domineering relationship. This happened well into the age of the internet where a curious insecure guy can google average penis size and doesn’t have to get validated by his friend’s just-released-from-prison dad. In fact, he could probably just google the man’s name and find out if what he was telling him was true or not. The author seems to have little to no agency in his own life, as demonstrated by his haphazard choice for his study abroad year. He really didn’t know anything about the university he chose, or the people there. He seems to have no money. His Svengali stepped in to get him his visa – things it really seems like the school or his family should have been on top of. He runs into another American while he's out and then finds out there’s a whole lot more Americans he didn't realize were there, but they are living in another building. He promptly rejects them and returns to his own hole in the wall. You would think living away from the cult leader for that extended period, a period where Ray didn’t even seem to contact him that much would have led to some clarity. I mean, he had a bed and regular meals and no one making weird nonsensical demands on his time. But that segment ends, and he returns home realizing suddenly he has no place to live next semester. Again, where are all the adults in this scenario? (And if it was so easy for Ray to find himself a room on campus, why couldn’t the author have crashed on a couch or something until a room opened up for him.) He talks about how he had no idea how to go about renting an apartment in New York City, but why would he rent there? That’s not where his college is located. Why would he need to keep a job in an ice cream shop in NYC? I’m sure there are plenty of similar jobs nearer to his college. I feel like I’ve led a somewhat sheltered life, but even at 18, I would have had some questions. Guy gets out of prison and has to live with his daughter, but soon he can afford a limo that is seemingly always on call to ferry his crew around? How does he come up with envelopes full of $10,0000 cash that he passes out, forces them to count, and then takes away again? Where did this apartment in this swanky building come from? Who is paying the rent? He single handedly ended the Kosovo War too? Lots of red flags. It all just reeks of a con job. Did he think absolutely nothing of sexual abuse that was clearly taking place between this much older man and these young women? What did he think was happening behind closed doors? Did he have no opinion of the creepy, over intimate nicknames that he and his daughter called each other? He never calls attention to it, but it reeks of enmeshment and incest. The book has some grainy black and white pictures included, that aren’t explained. I’m assuming one was (inexplicably) of the bins from the storage unit where he had to go to pick up Ray’s daughter’s sweaters. One might be a deer being hung. He discusses how that happens in the woods behind his house. One appears to be a growth on tree, which he discusses with his professor at one point. There's a picture of ducks on the ledge at his English college. The fact the book is called “Slonim Woods 9” rather than “Larry’s chaotic overcrowded apartment in the city” is something of misnomer. Certainly, it sounds more ominous that way. Most of the book takes place in the apartment that Ray has either rented or conned someone out of. (Because how does an ex-con rent an apartment in NYC?) I almost quit reading this book several times because I was just so frustrated by it. I believe the author, but it just left me with so many unanswered questions. It also included a lot of seemingly random unconnected details. Slonim was the name of the village where some of his ancestors had lived before they'd been sent to concentration camps. A couple of Germans apologize to him for the Holocaust. Hmm. Okay. It was confusing and left me asking “why” a lot. Early on, Ray tells him how good James Joyce's "Finnigan's Wake" is, how transcendent, he can't stop laughing as he reads it because it is so funny. He gets it in a way others don't. As a former English major who studied Joyce I definitely could have could have called him on this. "Finnigan's Wake" is a great con job book to claim to love because no one without a PhD who is desperate for a publication credit in James Joyce Quarterly can challenge you on it. I finished this book unsatisfied. I don't understand how he was so vulnerable to this manipulation in the first place. I don't understand why he continued to put up with it. I think that is fundamentally where the book fails. Get some more therapy, process, give it more time, and try again.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Austin Coss

    I so badly wanted to like this book and buy into the cult mentality… I couldn’t get invested because it just felt like a non-linear retelling of events, most of which didn’t seem relevant. I was constantly frustrated with the authors inability to stand up for himself in even the smallest ways, moping about not having a girlfriend, worrying about being poorly endowed and potentially gay. I ended up skimming the second half of the book in lieu of putting it down altogether.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dennis Diehl

    ***REQUIRED READING*** Along with Cultish by Amanda Montell, a more lucid and honest picture of what a cult actually is—both views in and out—I can not imagine.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Joyce Hamel

    Dangerous Vulnerability Sarah Lawrence is small liberal arts school located near Yonkers, New York. It has been known as a prestigious college and only admitted men in 1968. This is a memoir, written by Daniel Levin, a student who came under the spell of Larry Ray. Larry is the father of Talia, who told her roommates that her father was coming to live with her in the communal house called Slonim Woods 9.. He had been in prison and they needed time together. No one objected to this odd intrusion a Dangerous Vulnerability Sarah Lawrence is small liberal arts school located near Yonkers, New York. It has been known as a prestigious college and only admitted men in 1968. This is a memoir, written by Daniel Levin, a student who came under the spell of Larry Ray. Larry is the father of Talia, who told her roommates that her father was coming to live with her in the communal house called Slonim Woods 9.. He had been in prison and they needed time together. No one objected to this odd intrusion and in moved Larry Ray. Our author was a student and part of this group and seemed both ambivalent and under the spell of Mr. Ray. Ray appeared to target the young men’s sexual weaknesses or lack of confidence and play on it until it became untenable. He did the same with some of the young women. To put this group into a controlled environment, they moved to Ray’s one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. The only positive here was that they no longer had housing costs and Daniel would never have been able to afford a New York apartment. Ray led delusional counseling sessions and meetings with this group which achieved mental, sexual and physical abuse. Ray was an ex-convict preying on his daughters’ roommates. He referred to his important position in our government and/or army called the DIA or Defense Intelligence Agency. He used this position to impress these college students. Why didn’t someone look him up at the beginning? The book was difficult to read, not only because of the cult-like subject matter but it was told in a stream of consciousness. The author did not really explain situations in chronological order. The writing encompassed one incident after another without much connection to previous incidents. The shaming and revolting punishments, under the guise of awareness of oneself, were often abject torture. Embarrassment seemed to be Ray’s claim to fame. Daniel liked poetry and could write poetry. I believe he escaped into this talent to find solace. When Sarah Lawrence learned of this “sex cult,” the college expressed shock. They didn’t even know how Ray, a guest, could be allowed to stay in the dorm, Slonim Woods 9. Reading the book took concentration as one incident could roll into another unrelated one. The entire depiction and awareness became gruesome and cruel. Reading about abuse is not pleasant and this book was often disjointed, incoherent and muddled. It may have mirrored the travesty. My gratitude to NetGalley and Crown, a division of Penguin Random House ,for providing this pre-published book in exchange for an honest review.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Angela

    This started out really weak, but once we got into the nitty-gritty of just exactly how Larry Ray manipulated these naive Ivy League kids, it got good and dark fast. Levin has a brilliant section in full stream-of-consciousness Larry mode that gives you a taste of being subjected to a real-life Larry monologue, full of outlandish boasts, subtle digs, large purchases, promises of future instruction, and just general weirdness. I’d like to think I’m not, frankly, so psychologically fragile that I c This started out really weak, but once we got into the nitty-gritty of just exactly how Larry Ray manipulated these naive Ivy League kids, it got good and dark fast. Levin has a brilliant section in full stream-of-consciousness Larry mode that gives you a taste of being subjected to a real-life Larry monologue, full of outlandish boasts, subtle digs, large purchases, promises of future instruction, and just general weirdness. I’d like to think I’m not, frankly, so psychologically fragile that I could be manipulated by someone as Colonel Kurtz ugly as Larry Ray, but that’s what we all think. This guy is a full-on psychopath who seemed to get genuine pleasure sexually and financially exploiting these kids. I think I’d take one look at him and get the eff out of that bizarre house with Larry sleeping in one bed with his daughter and his lover (at the same time!?) and everyone else huddled on the floor next to paint cans being accused every other day of deliberately breaking some overpriced object as a manifestation of anger. This book reads as though Levin is still very very wounded and gentle and confused, and I wish him well, but I did get the impression from the afterward that some part of him is still frightened of Larry Ray and still somehow feels like he owes him or is treading on someone’s feet or doing someone wrong. He doesn’t and he isn’t. He is free, of his own doing.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Christina

    3.5 some parts were hard to read due to the violence and serial interactions. He definitely write a few parts of the story to make you feel as confused as he probably was during parts of this chapter in his life. Its hard to imagine that these kinds of things still happen to people with all of the information and ways to stay connected to each other.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Caro Buchheim

    I remember reading "The Stolen Kids of Sarah Lawrence" back in the day, wondering about that blank space in the middle of the story: What exactly happened there? Daniel Barban Levin now offers a compelling first-hand-account of the strange cult of Larry Ray, as he himself tries to figure out that blank space. His book is intimate and claustrophobic, beautifully crafted and hard to bear. It's an excellent account of coercive control: The sleep-deprived dread of life in the apartment, the unspeaka I remember reading "The Stolen Kids of Sarah Lawrence" back in the day, wondering about that blank space in the middle of the story: What exactly happened there? Daniel Barban Levin now offers a compelling first-hand-account of the strange cult of Larry Ray, as he himself tries to figure out that blank space. His book is intimate and claustrophobic, beautifully crafted and hard to bear. It's an excellent account of coercive control: The sleep-deprived dread of life in the apartment, the unspeakable things that happen in its bedroom and the strange hold Larry Ray has over Daniel even from far away can be acutely felt, overwhelmingly so in a chapter written in Larry Rays mindnumbing monologue. There is no complete answer to what happened there, the blank space remains somewhat empty, as Daniels understanding of his experience seems to be ever deepening - but this is a tour de force and I am so glad to have read it.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Mckay

    Really really enjoyed this memoir. So bizarre and creepy at times, and I had to remind myself again and again that it was true. Going to look further into case as it unfolds. Listened to it on audio and really could not put it down!

  13. 4 out of 5

    The Witch of the Wood

    Slonim Woods 9 is a firsthand account of life in a sex-cult. Levin shares his experiences and the abuses he faced at the hands of Larry Ray beginning in 2010. While attending Sarah Lawrence College in New York, Levin first met Talia Ray, the daughter of Larry. Levin was introduced to Larry shortly after his release from prison. Talia, Levin, and other young adults moved in together and Larry joined them. Larry immediately began to groom the young adults, abusing them and coercing them into nonco Slonim Woods 9 is a firsthand account of life in a sex-cult. Levin shares his experiences and the abuses he faced at the hands of Larry Ray beginning in 2010. While attending Sarah Lawrence College in New York, Levin first met Talia Ray, the daughter of Larry. Levin was introduced to Larry shortly after his release from prison. Talia, Levin, and other young adults moved in together and Larry joined them. Larry immediately began to groom the young adults, abusing them and coercing them into nonconsensual sexual activities. He became their leader holding them captive with threats of violence and claiming Levin and the others owed him thousands of dollars. It is a terrifying and gut-wrenching story of young adults being manipulated and abused. While this book was hard to read at times, I found it really interesting and beautifully written. It is a difficult story to tell, but Levin does so in a way that is visceral and captivating. Levin makes sure to only share his own experiences and not speak for the others. His story and escape is harrowing and I hope the survivors of this travesty are finding the help they need to heal.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jake

    Deeply disturbing. I don’t read books like this often so it made me uncomfortable. We all like to think this wouldn’t happen to us but when I was 19 and away at college, I was naive and impressionable like this author. Apparently, this book just scratches the surface of the Larry Ray saga.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kristy

    Raw, unflinching and I’m crying 😭 beautifully written memoir and heartbreaking story, I hope the author is able to heal 💕

  16. 4 out of 5

    Julie Wiskirchen

    As a Sarah Lawrence alum, I’ve been fascinated in this cult story since the New York magazine article. This memoir wasn’t as engrossing or illuminating as I expected. There’s a lot of dailiness that gets slow. But it’s ultimately very unsettling and gripping. I respect the author’s choice to tell his story without going too much into his friends’ stories but the effect is that the reader isn’t left with a full picture.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Regan

    Omfg

  18. 4 out of 5

    Renee

    Very interesting non fiction story about how average college students got involved with a cult. In September 2010, a sophomore named Talia Ray, attending Sarah Lawrence College asked her roommates if her father could stay with them for a while. Her father, Larry Ray, was just released from prison and Talia's roommates believed everyone deserved a second chance and therefore did not object. "A while" turned into over a year, and almost immediately Larry began holding innumerable counseling sessio Very interesting non fiction story about how average college students got involved with a cult. In September 2010, a sophomore named Talia Ray, attending Sarah Lawrence College asked her roommates if her father could stay with them for a while. Her father, Larry Ray, was just released from prison and Talia's roommates believed everyone deserved a second chance and therefore did not object. "A while" turned into over a year, and almost immediately Larry began holding innumerable counseling sessions and “family meetings”, which were intended to help the college students “achieve clarity”. The meetings shifted in focus and intensity slowly but consistently and before you know it, the roommates did not leave the house or eat a meal without Larry's permission. I would have liked the author to talk about the effect this year had on the other roommates and their loved ones, and what happened to Ray, his daughter and the others once Levin freed himself.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Alison Hadley

    Trauma Bond Story I have worked with many victim-survivors of varying severities of abuse and torture, and this is a rather short story of such a situation. I am relieved to know Daniel (Danel) was able to escape this situation, as many are still trapped by the psychological methods used by psychopaths like Larry. His daughter became sadly complicit. The book itself could have been improved by providing more information about the effect on others and their loved ones, who also must have suffered. Trauma Bond Story I have worked with many victim-survivors of varying severities of abuse and torture, and this is a rather short story of such a situation. I am relieved to know Daniel (Danel) was able to escape this situation, as many are still trapped by the psychological methods used by psychopaths like Larry. His daughter became sadly complicit. The book itself could have been improved by providing more information about the effect on others and their loved ones, who also must have suffered. Hope author is receiving competent therapy for comprehensive recovery.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Nikki

    I read this book in two days. By 2/3 of the way through, I couldn’t put it down. I actually stayed up until 1:30 am to finish. When seeing footage of cult leaders like Charles Manson or David Koresh, I’ve always found it interesting to try to imagine how someone could fall under their spell. How do otherwise intelligent people give control of their lives to someone else? It was fascinating in this book to witness the entire arc of the cult experience. We get to know Daniel Levin before, during an I read this book in two days. By 2/3 of the way through, I couldn’t put it down. I actually stayed up until 1:30 am to finish. When seeing footage of cult leaders like Charles Manson or David Koresh, I’ve always found it interesting to try to imagine how someone could fall under their spell. How do otherwise intelligent people give control of their lives to someone else? It was fascinating in this book to witness the entire arc of the cult experience. We get to know Daniel Levin before, during and after his experience with the Slonim Woods group. It was really an intimate look into his psyche, and he was very brave to write so candidly about the horrific abuse he experienced. The book dedication is “To the friends I cannot reach.” Sad to know that some of his friends are still caught in Larry Ray’s web. I didn’t know much about this cult at Sarah Lawrence, and assumed while reading that some of the names had been changed in the book, but no, the facts are all there and have been corroborated by other witnesses. I looked up Larry Ray after finishing the book, and wow, that guy is every bit as bizarre as the author described. And he has the high-level military and intelligence connections he claimed to have. He actually drove Mikhail Gorbachev around in his own vehicle when Gorbachev visited the USA. And apparently a capo from the Gambino crime family attended his wedding, so there are seemingly organized crime connections as well. There are lots of articles about the Sarah Lawrence group. Sadly, one person has since committed suicide, and another has been indicted on federal charges (related to sex trafficking and fraud, I believe.) Just look up Larry Ray’s photo, and you can get a real sense of his magnetism. It’s easy now to see how those impressionable friends of his daughter became entranced by him.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    The descriptions of how things happened are often well-written and somewhat compelling and many insights about life are poetically portrayed, but the “why” was only scratched at periodically and I am baffled as to how Larry had such power over people other than emotionally beating them down. He seemed absolutely charmless, yet they all sat under his mysterious gravitational charm? The author also had some book smarts and clear writing ability, but such little insight into how things in life reall The descriptions of how things happened are often well-written and somewhat compelling and many insights about life are poetically portrayed, but the “why” was only scratched at periodically and I am baffled as to how Larry had such power over people other than emotionally beating them down. He seemed absolutely charmless, yet they all sat under his mysterious gravitational charm? The author also had some book smarts and clear writing ability, but such little insight into how things in life really work, despite obviously being college-level intelligent. He exhibited such little agency, such a learned helplessness and seemed to be constantly acted upon by others with not even the basic understanding of how things function. For such a potentially fascinating actual story, I came away feeling very disappointed overall in the story that was told. How did Larry dupe an entire group of college kids? I literally have little more idea about that than I did going into the book. And the story just dragggggged every few chapters, turning the second half of the book into an absolute slog.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Hopkins

    More like 3.5 stars. This was hit or miss for me depending on what was happening. A memoir from a young man who unwittingly joins a sort of cult under the leadership of his Sarah Lawrence College dormmate's father, Larry Ray, when he moves into their building after serving time in prison, I was drawn to the story the second I read "The Cut" article a couple of years ago, because of course "The Cut" was all over it, and I was intrigued when I saw one of the victims would be sharing his own story. More like 3.5 stars. This was hit or miss for me depending on what was happening. A memoir from a young man who unwittingly joins a sort of cult under the leadership of his Sarah Lawrence College dormmate's father, Larry Ray, when he moves into their building after serving time in prison, I was drawn to the story the second I read "The Cut" article a couple of years ago, because of course "The Cut" was all over it, and I was intrigued when I saw one of the victims would be sharing his own story. What I think this book did well was describe how one can join a cult without really knowing they're joining a cult, and how easy it is to fall under the spell of cult leaders, especially when they're older, wealthy, and promise you great things, and you're young, naive, and desperate to find yourself in an unforgiving world. Cults have always been wild to me because it's hard to see many of those who join them – the ones who aren't being forced into them – as victims. You throw away everything in your life and willingly drink the cyanide Kool-Aid because you really loved some weird stuff this guy told you? It's REALLY difficult for me to identify with the kind of person who would choose to do this. But the author showed his desperation, his loneliness, and his struggles with his family and home life in a way that made me feel like if I was in his frame of mind as an 18-year-old, I'd probably instantly fall for the first person who told me I belonged. He also showed how subtle the process can be, where one day you're just hanging out at this guy's house having philosophical discussions and making out with a girl who's into you, and the next you're being emotionally abused and manipulated into thinking it's not a problem. It's shocking what people can convince you of when you're at your breaking point, and I think even if you're not dragged into a cult by force, it's still not the same thing as making a choice if someone takes advantage of the state you're in to get you involved. The issues I had were mostly minor in comparison, with the biggest being that life outside of the cult happenings was kind of...dull at times? And the transitions were kind of jarring. In one moment we're reading about a horrifying instance of sexual abuse, and the next, the author is spending a full page talking about how many push-ups he does every morning while studying abroad, and how he can do press handstands, and how his morning routine is to go back and forth between push-ups and doing the dishes. Like...cool?!?! There's also a saga where he turns the air conditioner off when he worked at an ice cream shop and his boss comes in the next morning to find things melted...like, I get this is a big thing when you're 18 and yeah, maybe it's worth the juxtaposition between you feeling like trash for screwing up at your summer job but then going to the cult apartment and finding people who love and respect you no matter what happened at work...but it was just A LOT of talk about closing by yourself and not knowing where the instructions were and debating whether to turn off the AC or not because your boss likes to save money and so naturally she'd want to turn it off...I feel like we could've dropped MOST of that and still understood the point. I just read a book where there was literally NO filler, so I think that made the extraneous info in this one stand out all the more, but pieces of this felt very much like "I need to fill a word count." The author is also a poetry major and a lot of the prose is...very much what you'd expect from someone who was like "I'm gonna be a poetry major at Sarah Lawrence." Real Julia Stiles in "10 Things I Hate About You" vibes. This is kind of bitchy, I guess, given the context and that it was someone's real life, but there were several pretentious 'deep thoughts' that were unfortunately lol-worthy, which kind of takes you out of the moment, especially when things were getting really dark and horrifying and icky. It really was just very noticeably not good and unfortunately it affected how I connected to the story. That said, it was still absolutely worth reading, which is why I'm rounding up to a 3.5. Larry Ray and one of his victims-turned-accomplices Isabella Pollok are both now facing trial in 2022, with Ray charged with 16 counts of racketeering, sex trafficking, and money laundering while Pollok is charged with four counts for being Ray's co-conspirator related to prostitution and forced labor. I hope the author and the other victims – including Ray's daughter – are able to get justice and be able to enjoy life without this experience defining them.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    I mean… it was horrifying. It was horrifying because of what was actually said but more so because of what was left unsaid. The trauma that the author endured still feels quite murky even in his retelling. You can tell it’s a struggle to piece everything together, to make sense of his own mind and how he justified his thoughts and experiences to get enmeshed into this mess. Cults prey on the vulnerable and tell them they belong, that they can still be fixed. They plant false memories and fuck up I mean… it was horrifying. It was horrifying because of what was actually said but more so because of what was left unsaid. The trauma that the author endured still feels quite murky even in his retelling. You can tell it’s a struggle to piece everything together, to make sense of his own mind and how he justified his thoughts and experiences to get enmeshed into this mess. Cults prey on the vulnerable and tell them they belong, that they can still be fixed. They plant false memories and fuck up your sense of reality and self, and they do it all for the benefit of the leader. Larry was absolutely gruesome to read about, the sheer unadulterated power that he waved in front of everyone’s faces, the creepy pet name he had for his daughter and she for him, “honeygirl and honey boy”, the obvious counts of sexual abuse and incest. Reading this just felt filthy. It was really well written in my opinion, but had a lot of little side thoughts and moments that didn’t piece together with the story being told. A lot of things that Larry did glaringly made no sense, but the author clearly had zero self respect throughout this entire thing. He had no autonomy. Everything he did was to appease the raging delusional man that housed him. So many things end up going unanswered, so many questions are raised, but I just see this young man swimming through life not as himself but as a shadow of this man. Time passes choppily in the book because I imagine he was so entranced and sleep deprived that that’s how the passage of time felt. I know this is a memoir and that he was trying to retain some privacy over his co-members of the cult but it ends up washing the book in confusion and blank spaces and, sometimes, boredom and discouragement for the main character. There were many times I stopped really caring about him because he became such a puppet. Even in the end, in writing the book, it feels empty, unprocessed, and cold. I wanted to hear more about his healing after the fear. I wanted to learn about anyone’s experience but his own. I wanted him to break free so much sooner. From the start this shit raises red flag after red flag. Talia is not well and he always knew it. (even googling her shows a picture of a girl with absolute crazy in her eyes) They all just accepted this old fucking bald dude to come live in their college housing. The entrapment is slow but barely methodical, it’s like they all just kind of accept it. It’s hard to make sense of because we know about Daniel’s upbringing but it doesn’t seem..: enough to make him so willing to go along with all this? I know it’s insensitive to question but honestly the book skimmed the surface of what I wish it did. Still, it was written well and fascinating to read. I had to pause several times because the sexual abuse was just so horrific. I have super mixed feelings on this one because I only finished it because I just wanted it to end, wanted to see him escape. Very tough read and very perplexing. 3.5/5

  24. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Well, first, if you haven't read this batshit crazy story published a few years ago in New York magazine, drop everything and read it. Basically, this very sketchy guy named Larry Ray, who'd just gotten out of prison but had convinced his college-age daughter that he was the good guy and the victim of a conspiracy, moved into said daughter's dorm room at Sarah Lawrence College and drew her and several of her roommates into a cult, later living together in an NYC apartment, where he manipulated t Well, first, if you haven't read this batshit crazy story published a few years ago in New York magazine, drop everything and read it. Basically, this very sketchy guy named Larry Ray, who'd just gotten out of prison but had convinced his college-age daughter that he was the good guy and the victim of a conspiracy, moved into said daughter's dorm room at Sarah Lawrence College and drew her and several of her roommates into a cult, later living together in an NYC apartment, where he manipulated them into doing all kinds of things: confessing to things they didn't do, functioning on little sleep, having sex with each other, giving him money. Daniel Barban Levin was one of those roommates, and while he was able to extract himself from the cult earlier than his friends, it still had a lasting effect on his psyche. Remember that Friends episode where Joey's fridge breaks and he doesn't want to pay for a new one, so he pushes Ross into the fridge and is like, "Ross! You broke my fridge! You need to buy me a new one!"? Imagine that, but not funny- Larry would manipulate the kids into thinking they broke things they didn't break so that they'd give him money. He'd basically torture them into doing things. While I'd like to think that I'd never get drawn into a cult, clearly it does happen to a lot of otherwise normal people, and after reading this book, I could see how a bad combination of circumstances- a manipulative guy who needed money and shelter and a bunch of college kids dealing with normal college student angst and identity crises- could lead to it happening. (I do NOT understand why Sarah Lawrence didn't just tell the guy he wasn't allowed to live in his daughter's dorm room- like, WTF? That could never have happened at the school I went to, nor could the multiple instances of students hiding pet cats in their rooms that Daniel mentions.) The book is interesting, but I also hope that someone, hopefully the authors of the New York coverage, write a more comprehensive book about Larry Ray and his victims. Even more fucked up things happened after Daniel left, including some really horrifying sex trafficking. I'd also like to hear from his ex-wife about how he managed to manipulate his daughter Talia- I do think parental alienation is bullshit most of the time, but this is that rare instance where a parent really was able to alienate their kid from the other parent through lies.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    I'll admit to having a morbid fascination about cults and cult leaders. Manson and his Family, Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple, L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, and more. When I recently read about Larry Ray and the abuse he heaped upon several Sarah Lawrence students, I knew I had to read this book. I'm not sure why I have this fascination. I think it's a combination of trying to figure out how anyone could fall for such claptrap and an effort to ensure that I remain skeptical enough to never b I'll admit to having a morbid fascination about cults and cult leaders. Manson and his Family, Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple, L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, and more. When I recently read about Larry Ray and the abuse he heaped upon several Sarah Lawrence students, I knew I had to read this book. I'm not sure why I have this fascination. I think it's a combination of trying to figure out how anyone could fall for such claptrap and an effort to ensure that I remain skeptical enough to never be sucked in by such a thing. I'm a gullible person in some ways but it seems that the scientific side of me stays rooted in reality. I'm happy that I'm that way because Mr. Levin's account is a horrific one. Humiliation, psychological manipulation, physical abuse. A few months ago, Ray was found guilty on all charges brought against him. He will be sentenced this fall and could spend the rest of his life behind bars. I don't know if that will be enough to help the kids he abused but I hope that it will help them feel some justice and vindication. Mr. Levin sounds like he's in a better place now, after finding enough inner strength to see through the con and break away. I found this passage exactly right: "WE WANT SO BADLY for the world to be ordered, and reliable. We want it to be magical, too, to be meaningful. The idea that everything is random and unpredictable, that our memories and perceptions are shifting and chaotic, that we have no control over our place in the world, what happens to us, our futures or our pasts, is terrifying. We want to look up at the stars and see shapes that resemble ourselves." I realized some time ago that life is more often than not completely random. I still find meaning, and even magic, in it all but understanding that we have little control over things was rather liberating for me. It has been my experience that those drawn to cults or certain "religions" are often looking for a meaning to the randomness. They need a reason behind everything. Learning to let reason fall by the wayside (at least when it comes to any sort of hidden meaning) made me feel more at peace and less susceptible to those who would prey on others. A fascinating book and I wish the best to the author.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    The title refers to the dorm where Levin lived as a sophomore at Sarah Lawrence College. One of his roommates, Talia Ray, would ruin his life for the next two years. When her dad Larry was released from prison, he descended on Slonim Woods 9 with a few shady acquaintances (former military, ex cons) and set up camp amongst the college kids. Larry, a former marine who was allegedly working on defense projects for the government, had a personality that was larger-than-life. He was also full of a wh The title refers to the dorm where Levin lived as a sophomore at Sarah Lawrence College. One of his roommates, Talia Ray, would ruin his life for the next two years. When her dad Larry was released from prison, he descended on Slonim Woods 9 with a few shady acquaintances (former military, ex cons) and set up camp amongst the college kids. Larry, a former marine who was allegedly working on defense projects for the government, had a personality that was larger-than-life. He was also full of a whole lot of bull-plop. Basically, Larry ruled these kids through psychological torture. Even after the school year ended, when they moved out of SW9, they all shacked up in Larry’s Manhattan apartment where he continued to be predatory and manipulative. He focused on the kids with the lowest self-esteem, convincing them that they were suicidal and that he saved their lives. Larry constantly built them up only to tear them down again in a vicious cycle of humiliation. And he was sleeping with his daughter’s friends. Gross. For two years this went on. Levin couldn’t even escape Larry’s influence when he studied abroad in England for a couple of semesters. Despite Levin being an award-winning poet, I don’t think his narrative here was very polished. Mind you, his portrayal of what happened was effectively depressing and disturbing. But because he lacks confidence, it comes across in his narrative. And I felt the book could have done with some sort of afterward because there were some unresolved topics. Like how was Larry always so flush with cash, and what happened to the other students? Otherwise, it was a creepy memoir about how a handful of naïve college kids got sucked into a quasi-cult.

  27. 5 out of 5

    A

    Rounded up from 3.5 stars for a powerful ending. This book was hard to read. It felt simultaneously suffocating, gory, perplexing, infuriating, and futile - which likely (at least somewhat) mimics the author’s experience in the cult of Larry Ray. My predominant emotion was frustration: where are all the adults in this boy’s life? Why did his own parents turn a blind eye to a mysterious adult man so deeply influencing their son? Why didn’t Sarah Lawrence step in? I think I would’ve appreciated re Rounded up from 3.5 stars for a powerful ending. This book was hard to read. It felt simultaneously suffocating, gory, perplexing, infuriating, and futile - which likely (at least somewhat) mimics the author’s experience in the cult of Larry Ray. My predominant emotion was frustration: where are all the adults in this boy’s life? Why did his own parents turn a blind eye to a mysterious adult man so deeply influencing their son? Why didn’t Sarah Lawrence step in? I think I would’ve appreciated reading more perspectives, as this memoir (inherently a single-viewpoint one) felt inadequate. I was also frustrated with Daniel himself. I nearly DNF’d this several times as he kept making incoherent and inconsistent decisions that went completely against his own self interest. Daniel is a young man struggling with many common coming-of-age challenges: anxiety, insecurity, meaninglessness, and the search for self as distinct from family/community. He finds himself enmeshed in a cult for years as even a semester abroad is unable to free him from Larry Ray and the Sarah Lawrence crew. I’d read a lot about this cult and was eager to understand more via the memoir. Ultimately, though, this left me with more questions than answers. The writing itself was just okay. The end was powerful and self reflective - the book would’ve benefited from that tone throughout. I don’t feel Daniel has enough distance from these events to truly unpack his own decision-making. Nevertheless, the subject matter was interesting and the ending well-executed. 3.5 to 4 stars.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Danielle

    The true story of Daniel was just a normal college student at Sarah Lawrence feeling like he didn't belong but also finding a group of friends who could help him find a place to belong. All that changed when the father of one of his roommates moved into his dorm house (when you hear about this case, you hear about the father living in the dorm room, but it was more of a dorm house where 6 or 8 coed roommates lived together). Suddenly, this new 50 year old man began to change the lives of all of The true story of Daniel was just a normal college student at Sarah Lawrence feeling like he didn't belong but also finding a group of friends who could help him find a place to belong. All that changed when the father of one of his roommates moved into his dorm house (when you hear about this case, you hear about the father living in the dorm room, but it was more of a dorm house where 6 or 8 coed roommates lived together). Suddenly, this new 50 year old man began to change the lives of all of the students living in Slonim Woods 9. (Trigger: suicide, sex abuse, rape, brainwashing) Y'all. This book is scary. Daniel tries very hard to make sure that he is telling only his story about the time in Larry Ray's cult. The mental and sexual abuse that he experienced is TERRIFYING and I truly think he probably got the "easier" of the treatment. He was able to get out within a couple of years. Many of these young adults ended up spending 10 years under Larry's control until he was finally arrested. Larry used manipulation, sex, intense questioning sessions, sleep deprivation, punishments, and much more to control these young people. Reading Daniel's thoughts about how he would convince himself about something that Larry said happened was the scariest part of this story. It is a tough read, but an eye opening one. While this story was powerful, I will say that it was slow at times. It is still a great book and well worth the read. I am very interested in how this story ultimately ends up after Larry's trial and I hope that we are able to hear from more of his victims one day.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tracy

    I get the book. I get Daniels stylistic choice. This was a good book. I read the reviews, some say it was slow going, it was confusing, convoluted. But that’s how Daniel became part of the cult in the first place. Small innocuous events that the reader thinks is mundane, slowly building, consulted and illogical. Yes as a reader who read the article in The Cut, I knew what was happening. We knew what was happening but at the time, Daniel didn’t. I like the stream of consciousness style. Because a I get the book. I get Daniels stylistic choice. This was a good book. I read the reviews, some say it was slow going, it was confusing, convoluted. But that’s how Daniel became part of the cult in the first place. Small innocuous events that the reader thinks is mundane, slowly building, consulted and illogical. Yes as a reader who read the article in The Cut, I knew what was happening. We knew what was happening but at the time, Daniel didn’t. I like the stream of consciousness style. Because after all, from the events in that occurred- reality outside of Daniels consciousness was so convulsed the only thing Daniel had that he knew was true was his own experience. As an author, a survivor, and most likely will be involved in the upcoming case I know why he didn’t offer more on what happened to the others and more details on Ray. I get why there were time jumps. It would be wrong for Daniel to write anything other than his experiences. Even though we know Ray posted a lot online- we still need to respect the privacy of the survivors. All this to say, this was a really good book with really good writing that took me along for the ride and made me feel nervous, scared, and confused. Just like these young adults were back then.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kristyn

    This is a very interesting look at how Daniel Levin ended up losing years of his life to an unnamed cult led by his college friend Talia's dad Larry, an ex-marine who just got out of prison during his time at Sarah Lawrence College. It's fascinating seeing how Daniel's thinking changed along the way and how he accepted the abuse, manipulation, and punishments that Larry doled out. There were times when Daniel couldn't even tell if he was lying or telling the truth about himself. Larry claimed to This is a very interesting look at how Daniel Levin ended up losing years of his life to an unnamed cult led by his college friend Talia's dad Larry, an ex-marine who just got out of prison during his time at Sarah Lawrence College. It's fascinating seeing how Daniel's thinking changed along the way and how he accepted the abuse, manipulation, and punishments that Larry doled out. There were times when Daniel couldn't even tell if he was lying or telling the truth about himself. Larry claimed to be a top-secret government employee who could help people achieve clarity, and they believed it. It wasn't only college students either. Larry had a former marine in his group who seemed to do his bidding as well. It took Daniel quite a while to figure out he had actually been in a cult. We all think that could never happen to us, but maybe it happens easier than you think. I recommend reading the article "The Stolen Kids of Sarah Lawrence" to learn more about who Larry actually is. I recommend this book if you are interested in cults.

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