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 –