Shane's Reviews > Rape: A Love Story

Rape by Joyce Carol Oates
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really liked it

Joyce Carol Oates seems to have a phobia about the Fourth of July. I just finished reading Black Water, another Independence Day disaster novella, only to be confronted with Rape - a love story, that covers a gang rape in Niagara Falls, NY to round off the fireworks and alcohol consumption on the special day that celebrates American independence.

Unlike Black Water, I didn’t skip pages here, for Rape - a love story, is a tight thriller, not only focussed on the victim’s plight but also on the outcome for her attackers when vigilante justice surfaces, a form of justice that seems more effective than the traditional courts, for offences such as rape are hard to prove without damaging the victims all over again.

Teena Maguire, a 35-year old single mother and her 12-year old daughter, Berthie, are taking a short cut home after a Fourth of July party, when they are accosted by a local gang of no-gooders high on crack. Teena is dragged away to a neighboring boathouse, gang-raped, and left for dead, while her daughter hides in the vicinity. The damage to Teena is horrible—physical, mental and societal. She struggles to emerge from life support, is left with permanently damaged vision and other private body parts, breaks up with her boyfriend as she can’t stand being touched anymore, and self-medicates with alcohol, dreading having to appear as a witness at the upcoming court trial.

The subsequent rape trial turns out to be a fiasco, where the defence attorney is able to wield the full force of American Justice and turn the tables around with a countercharge that Teena solicited the no-gooders for sex in exchange for money and then went crazy on them, leading to the violence by the men in self-defence. Public opinion sways from support for the attacked to the attackers. Berthie is ostracized at school as “the daughter of that tramp.”

We are also introduced to Dromoor, an ex-soldier turned cop on the Niagara Falls Police Department, a family man with two small daughters, who is attracted to Teena, but knows he can never go beyond sharing a drink with her. Dromoor served in the Gulf-War where he killed many enemy fighters, before becoming a cop; he also killed a bad guy while he was a rookie on the NFPD, saving the life of a colleague—he is no stranger to death, and to killing. When he answers the rape call at the boathouse, he finds the damaged woman and her daughter, and decides he has to protect them. And so, one by one, the rapists start dying or disappearing.

Oates skillfully delivers the narration in third and second person and simulates the voices of the many characters—victims and perpetrators alike—according to their educational and social levels. She focuses on the ugliness of rumour, the vindictiveness and meanness of small town society, and the perversions of justice that a democratic society provides for. She also takes the long view, by transporting us many years into the future to show us how the lives of the affected are transformed by this seminal incident, for the effects of rape are indeed life-long.

The subject of rape is a difficult one to handle, and having it as the book’s title, and then subtitling it “a love story” leaves many questions in the reader’s mind. Is this irony, a joke, or deathly intentional? What I took from the novella was that while rape is not an expression of love in its act, it does bring out the expression of love from others, love that the victim never knew existed. A gripping read indeed!
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
August 10, 2019 – Shelved
August 10, 2019 – Finished Reading

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