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.
Rating: 89 out of 100