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Review – Rape: A Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates


Rape: A Love Story
by Joyce Carol Oates
154 pages
Published December 14, 2003
Fiction, short story

I think the reason I was fascinated by Rape: A Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates was because the title is so…so…incongruous. It would be like saying War: A Celebration of Life or School Shootings: How They Benefit Society. I mean really. Rape: A Love Story?

Rape: A Love Story tells the story of Teena Maguire, walking home with her 12-year-old daughter after midnight on the Fourth of July, who cross paths with some local losers who lust after Teena, and next thing she knows they’re both being dragged into a boathouse, Teena to be brutally gang raped and Bethie, the daughter, “lucky” enough to crawl away to a corner. Bethie is able to identify the rapists, but when the rapists hire a hot shot attorney who attacks Teena’s character (because everyone knows that a woman wearing a low cut shirt is “asking for it”) and attacks Bethie’s ability to identify the males (I’m loathe to call them men), Dromoor, a local police officer who was first on the scene when police were called, starts to take matters into his own hands.

I KNOW this book sounds horrific. But it’s only horrific in a Dexter kind of way, where you find yourself rooting for the vigilante, even though you know it’s wrong. These are my favorite kinds of books: those that challenge a previously held belief that something is wrong.

Joyce Carol Oates is a masterful storyteller, and this book is no exception. In particular, Rape: A Love Story was told in a choppy type of narrative, and where I’ve thought this kind of choppy narration didn’t work in other books, I definitely thought it worked in this novella. When you read two books with a similar style, the better writer is easily discernible.

The other quirk in this book is that the narration alternates between various characters, all told in third person, but Bethie’s character is narrated in second person, addressing the reader as “you”.

The love story is Bethie’s, though arguably could refer to either Dromoor or her mother. There was an interesting quote part way through the book while the trial is happening. Bethie observes:

You wondered if in their sick way they loved Teena Maguire. They loved how they’d broken her, made her their own.

Whose love store this is could ultimately be left up to the reader.

I read Rape: A Love Story right after reading Picking Cotton, a book about a woman who incorrectly identified her rapist, and an innocent man was sent to prison for over 10 years. You can see the irony.

Many people might shy away from such a brutal topic, but I challenge you to pick this up and see how it challenges your views of right and wrong. It’s not gratuitous in any scene, though some scenes will make you flinch. I promise you, though, it’s not the rape scenes that stick with you after you’ve finished the book.

Buy this book from Powell’s | Buy this book from Amazon

Rating: 89 out of 100

Other reviews:

Bride of the Book God

| Tags: , , , , , 33 comments »

33 Responses to “Review – Rape: A Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates”

  1. Rebecca

    This book’s title is definitely an attention grabber, but once you read what it is about, it is even more gripping. I also like books that challenge my assumptions. That sentence from the book certainly did. This is definitely going to Mt. TBR, lol! You wrote an excellent review, too.


  2. Elizabeth

    You make this seem to be a compelling read. Of course the title caught my eye first, and then the author. I enjoy JCO and how she makes us re-think the status quo. Have you read Freaky Green Eyes? It’s one of her YA novels about spousal abuse from the child’s point of view.


  3. Stephanie

    I don’t know. I seem to have a problem reading JCO. I don’t know what it is. I’ve read 3 or 4 of her books. And I always feel like there’s something I’m missing. Something she’s written that I’m just not smart enough to understand. Makes me leary to pick up anything else!! Especially one with a name like that.

    Great review though!


  4. Beth F

    I’m with Stephanie, I’ve always had a problem JCO. But this novella looks very interesting. And your review must be good, because I’m actually considering giving Oates another try.


  5. Julie P.

    Great review. I find it so interesting how you captured your thoughts so well about this book. I’m haven’t read it, but I doubt I could have articulated my ideas. I find the way Oates write in the different voices to be very interesting too!


  6. natalie @ book, line, and sinker

    i haven’t read any JCO in a while…and this sounds tragic but good. good review…you’ve sold me on this “love story”.


  7. Kelly

    I haven’t ever read JCO, but you made this one sound good! At least with this one the title gives you an indication of what’s inside, whereas with Tender Morsels I had no idea it was going to be so dark.


  8. Jennsbookshelf

    Wow..that title is certainly an attention grabber! I have a few of Joyce Carol Oates’ books in my library, but haven’t had a chance to read them. I’m definitely going to add this on to my collection! Thank you for the review!


  9. Jeanne

    Your review intrigues me, especially because yesterday (and next Tuesday) I was having a discussion with my sophomore-level college class about Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and whether what happens between the handmaid and her doctor or the handmaid and her Commander can be called “rape.” Many of them are resistant to using the term because they think it’s been somewhat devalued by the addition of modifiers like “date.”


    trish Reply:

    That’s a really interesting observation your class made, Jeanne. I would have loved to have been in on that discussion.

    And for the record, I thought The Handmaid’s Tale was fantastic.


  10. Lisa

    Your review was awesom Trish! That is some title. I’ve never read one of JCO’s books but have a few on my TBR list. I will be adding this one as well. Thanks for sharing your feelings about it.


  11. DeSeRt RoSe

    I’ve never read anything by JCO but the title sure grabbed my attention to read the review. I love Dexter so i’m going to give this book a try it’s an interesting topic. Thank for a great review 🙂


  12. Kristi

    I think I am going to have to read this book. I read Black Water by her earlier this year – and it has just stuck with me – so I really need to read another one!


  13. jess

    This book sounds intense, I will have to give it a try.


  14. Kathy

    I agree with Jess, the book does sound intense, but I have to tell you, that title really turns me off.


  15. Nari

    This book sounds like something to rival an Alice Sebold novel. Parts of it actual reminded me of Lucky.
    I’ve been a fan of Joyce Carol Oats since I read FoxFire: Confessions of a Girl Gang back in high school. I agree that these topics are challenging for a lot of readers, but they bring up fantastic points about human nature and its inconsistencies with morals.


  16. Trisha

    Interesting review. Hadn’t heard of this book previously (it’s hard to keep up with JCO’s superhuman output!) and will keep an eye out for it next time I’m out book shopping.


    trish Reply:

    JCO puts out approximately two books a year. Isn’t that amazing?! I’m sure there’s many writers jealous of that ability. Heck, I’m not a writer and I’m jealous!


  17. Jen - Devourer of Books

    If I hadn’t read this review I’m fairly certain I would NEVER have picked this up, but I may have to give it a try. I definitely know what you mean about being able to tell the better writer when you read a couple of books with similar styles. It reminds me of what we were talking about the other day with “Wake” and “Wintergirls” and how much better the style worked in “Wintergirls”.


  18. Ti

    I am soooo turned off by rape. I can read a lot of gruesome things and don’t bat an eye at blood and gore but rape is just such a hard topic for me to deal with. However, that challenge you threw in at the end there. Damn you! LOL.


  19. Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness)

    I have a not-so-secret love for JCO. Her books are sort of trashy and remind me of Lifetime movies, but I just have to read them. They’re all sort of the same too — an intriguing woman has something horrible happen to her, and then we get to watch the consequences play out. I’m not sure why I get into it, since I avoid other writers that do the same thing. Something about JCO though, it’s like she’s literary, so it makes it ok. I’m not sure. This one sounds good though.


  20. Jessica

    I LOVE JCO. I have heard a lot about this book. Your review is the first one that has made me actually want to read it.


  21. Heather (Belle of the Books)

    Wow, incredible review. I wish I had heard of this book sooner. I just finished a year and a half research project, my senior thesis, about communication issues faced by rape victims and my findings surprised me so much that I’m more interested in rape issues instead of being burned out. This novella sounds right up my alley. I’m starting The Lovely Bones right now but I would really like to read this book. Thanks for sharing this book with all of us and for encouraging people to tackle the hard topics in new ways.


  22. Staci

    I really thought your review was top notch. I am not turning away from this one because of the topic. I think it sounds like an important read!


  23. S. Krishna

    Wow, this seems like a provocative novel, to say the least!


  24. bybee

    I’m so behind on my JCO reading.
    One of her novels that I really like is called Marya: A Life. I think it came out in the 1980s.


  25. Lisamm

    The only JCO I’ve read was We Were the Mulvaneys, which I thought was very good, but I have to say this title turns me off completely. After your review, though, I’d try it.


  26. Debbie

    Wow, this book sounds intense but after reading your review I’m definitely adding this to my list of books to read.


  27. Sadako

    Just wanted to add that I got this one from the library and am in the process of reading it now. Your review really did inspire me! not only did it go on the list of books to read, but it went right to the top!


  28. zibilee

    I have only read one other JCO book, and I thought it was really well written. I don’t know if I would have picked this book up (based on the title) but I may have a look after such an interesting review.


  29. Christie

    This book has been in my tbr journal for a long time. I find Oates fascinating. Every time I start a new book by her it takes me a while to get into the rhythm of her language, but once I do I find her writing beautiful and she certainly doesn’t shy away from the difficult topics. Thanks for an insightful review.


  30. Anna

    I read this one a few years ago. It’s definitely one of Oates’ better stories. I, too, was curious based on the title. I like how she plays with the readers’ sense of right and wrong.


  31. Rape: A Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates « Book Addiction

    […] Trish at Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’? […]

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