I picked up Rape. A Love Story because of the provoking title and because I had never read anything by the astoundingly prolific Joyce Carol Oates and a novella of about 160 pages seemed like a good place to start.
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. (Barnes and Noble)
From what I´ve heard of Oates´ style, violence is a strong component of her works, and Rape. A Love Story is no different. The book opens with a gang rape that is decribed in brutal detail. The aftermath is nearly as horrible, with neighbourhood people wondering what the victim did, and the rapists getting off lightly.
The writing style fits the story perfectly, very short sentences that seem slightly cut off, very matter-of-fact. I never thought I would like this kind of writing, I tend to enjoy more poetic and beautiful prose, but Oates makes it work for me. Another thing I like is the way the narrative is structured. The story is told from several point of views, and Bethie´s is written in second person. I love this point of view and you can get me to read almost anything that way. If you also enjoy second person narrative, check out Stewart O´Nan´s A Prayer for the Dying, one of my favorite books.
The book brings out conflicting emotion. The gang rape was horrible enough to read but the whispering and accusing stares of neighbours, a justice system so corrupt that rapists get off because of a technicality and a hot-shot laywer. And then the police officer who sets out to get justice for Teena and Bethie, playing judge jury and executioner. Such a slim volume of a book that can be read in a couple of hours but will stay with you for much longer.
I´m already on the next Oates, The Female of the Species, which is no less violent and impressive.