Rape: A Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates

Title:  Rape: A Love Story

Author:  Joyce Carol Oates

Published:  December 14, 2003

Page Count:  128

Genre:  Fiction

My Rating:  4 out of 5

Teena Maguire should not have tried to shortcut her way home that Fourth of July. Not after midnight, not through Rocky Point Park. Not the way she was dressed: tank top, denim cut-offs, high-heeled sandals. Not with her twelve-year-old daughter, Bethie. Not with packs of local guys running loose on hormones, rage, and alcohol. A victim of gang rape, left for dead in the park boathouse, the once vital and sexy Teena Maguire can now only regret that she has survived. And Bethie can barely remember a childhood uncolored by fear. For they’re not even a neighborhood away, the men that she identified for the Niagara Falls Police Department: the wide-browed, sandy-haired Pick brothers; the sneering Jimmy DeLucca; Fritz Haaber with his moustache and stubbled jaw. They’ve killed her grandmother’s longhaired orange cat. At a relentless, compelling pace punctuated by lonely cries in the night and the whisper of terror in the afternoon, National Book Award-winner Joyce Carol Oates unfolds the story of Teena and Bethie, their assailants, and their unexpected, silent champion, a man who knows the meaning of justice. And love.

I’ve been meaning to give Joyce Carol Oates another chance for years.  I say “another chance” because I absolutely detested We Were the Mulvaneys which I sadly read more than half of (and it’s a long book!) before deciding it was a complete waste of my time and being so angry with myself for reading as much of it as I did.  I don’t know what it was about that book, but it just did not work for me in such a huge way that I figured I couldn’t possibly like anything else Oates had done.  But knowing how prolific of an author she is, I always assumed eventually I’d give her another chance.  With Rape: A Love Story, I finally did, and I’m so glad I made that decision because this book definitely worked for me.

There were a few reasons I chose this book.  I’ve always been intrigued by it – the juxtaposition of the words “rape” and “love” in the same title always confused and interested me – the two words should never be put in the same sentence.  Yet as I’ve recently disclosed on this blog, I was raped several years ago on more than one occasion by someone I thought I loved.  So, although rape and love should never be put together, and logically they don’t belong in the same book much less the same title, I figured I would sort of get it, in a weird and maybe sad kind of way.

Well, the book wasn’t exactly what I was expecting.  First of all, Teena was NOT in love with her rapists.  She was not even in like with them – what Teena went through was a brutal beating, rape, and attempted murder, nothing like the experiences I had.  What Teena went through is the stereotype of rape – strangers jumping out of bushes, shoving you down and brutally raping you while using violence and/or threatening you with weapons.  What’s more, what she dealt with in the aftermath is the stereotype of how rape victims get treated – everyone said she “deserved it” for being dressed the way she was, several of the guys said she’d slept with them before so of course she “wanted it” this time too, she was “into it” at first and then changed her mind and of course a guy cannot just stop in the middle, etc.

And something about Rape: A Love Story just worked for me.  I can’t say what it is, I believe a huge part of it is thanks to Oates’ fantastic writing.  The way the book unfolded in such a mesmerizing, perfect way – I felt like I was there.  I felt like Bethie was talking to me, telling me the story from her point of view, and it was one of those things that just clicked.  You know what I mean – when a book just speaks to you, and you can’t understand or explain why?  That’s what happened for me with this one.

This book, for me, was not perfect – there were some plot points I didn’t enjoy, some aspects of what happened to the characters I didn’t agree with – but overall I truly appreciated Rape: A Love Story.  I would recommend it for fans of great writing, and quiet but powerful novels.  The rape scene, however, was not the easiest thing for me to read, and although it was not really a trigger for me I can see how it would be difficult for many people.  So just a warning on that.  That being said, I still think it’s a worthwhile read even with the uncomfortability factor.

More reviews –

19 thoughts on “Rape: A Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates”

  1. Sounds like a worthwhile book. Thank you for sharing a link to your past post since I hadn’t read it before.

  2. Wow, Heather. I followed your link to the other book review and am first – sad and angry that it happened to you, second – proud of you for sharing your experience to educate others. And, I hope that it has been helpful for you to do so. You are a strong woman, Heather – you had the guts and strength to leave the relationship, when many others do not. My heart goes out to you. {{{Heather}}}

    1. Thank you so much, Joy. I don’t always feel strong, but I have to admit that putting what happened to me in words, in such a public forum as my blog was sort of healing in a way. Not totally, of course, but it helps. 🙂 And it helps even more to have so many awesomely supportive blogging buddies like yourself!

  3. I’m glad you enjoyed this, but I have to tell you the title just turns me off. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that I haven’t read any of Joyce Carol Oates books.

    1. don’t be embarrassed! I still have a love/hate relationship with JCO since I’m now 1 for 2 with her but we’ll see. Perhaps I’ll try some other books and see what I think – she has like a million to choose from!

      I totally get the title turning you off… it turned me off too, but in a way I was fascinated with it, too, and that made me need to read it to see how the heck she could put that title out there and make it work. Somehow, it did, though.

  4. Like bermudaonion, I have yet to read any JCO books and am not sure which to try first. I do think I want to read this, though, as difficult a subject as it addresses. I, too, am intrigued by the pairing of these words as a title – one could assume it’s just a marketing stunt but so many people admire Oates.

    1. nah, I’d say it’s not a marketing stunt. Based on the story, it is a legitimate title. But I can definitely say that the title did help get me to pick it up over some of her other books – just to see what could possibly contain rape and a love story together.

  5. I’ve read a handful of Oates’ books, and this is among the better ones. I have a take-her-or-leave-her attitude about Oates. I actually liked the Mulvaneys book, but I really disliked The Gravedigger’s Daughter.


  6. Wow, I seem to have missed the post where you talk about being raped. I’m glad you liked this book, though.

    (so much I want to say but nothing’s coming out right, so I’ll just leave my comment as-is) 🙂

  7. Well, now I’m wishing the JCO book I picked up was not “Mulvaneys!” You’re a very courageous person to even be able to pick up a book with rape as the subject.

  8. This one does sound good. I liked the Mulvaney’s but I don’t think I’ve read any other books by her. I’ll have to get this sometime from my library.

  9. We Were the Mulvaney’s was the first JCO book I read and I’m sort of in love with it. I read it such a long time ago that I couldn’t tell you what it is about the book that I enjoyed so much, but I know it stuck with me.

    The only JCO books I’ve read have been very long ones, I’m interested to see how she writes in shorter forms. Thanks for the review.

  10. I have to admit that I love JCO. Rape, a Love Story is actually one of my favorite stories. I just read My Sister, My Love, which I also highly enjoyed. I remember reading We Were the Mulvaney’s and thinking that Oates was trying to kill me emotionally. Oates writing style is one of my favorites and her subject matters fascinate me.

  11. I have to admit that I love JCO. Rape, a Love Story is actually one of my favorite stories. I just read My Sister, My Love, which I also highly enjoyed. I remember reading We Were the Mulvaney’s and thinking that Oates was trying to kill me emotionally. Oates writing style is one of my favorites and her subject matters fascinate me.

  12. hey!!
    this book seem interestin,,, i really want to read this book if any1 hv tis book file plz mail me on (arik.n.shah@gmail.com)

    thnk u…

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