Wednesday, 20 July 2011
Rape: A Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates
Teena Maguire and her twelve year old daughter Bethel are walking home from a house party when they run into a group of neighbourhood men they know. While Bethel hides, Teena is repeatedly and brutally gang raped and then left for dead. The story is really about what happened afterwards, and society's attitude towards rape and rape victims.
Whenever I've read about rape statistics, I'm always shocked at the low conviction rates and appalled at the attitudes that some express, that can be blatantly victim blaming. Joyce Carol Oates sums all of this up perfectly in her novel by putting society's views in italics as a contrast to what actually happened to Teena. Some think she deserved it because she was wearing a short skirt, or because she was a widow who actually dated, or because she was out late at night. Others think she was making it up and actually consented in exchange for money, despite all of her injuries. They resent Teena for telling the truth. Under pressure from a community in which the rapists are also peoples friends, sons and brothers, Teena retreats into herself and finds recovery near to impossible.
The bit that really struck a chord with me was how Oates described the rape taking over the identity of the two women - Teena would also be 'that woman from the boat house' and Bethel 'that girl, Teena Maguire's daughter'. At school, Bethel is bullied by the relations of the rapists and called the daughter of a whore. Oates perfectly illuminated society's views without making it too obvious for the reader - something that must have been hard to pull off.
Verdict: A short but powerful read about an important issue. Contains graphic scenes of gang rape.
Score: 4.5 out of 5