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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Rape: A Love Story (2005)

I have read enough work by Joyce Carol Oates to understand her view of a world in which women and young girls often suffer physical violence at the hands of men when they least expect it to happen to them. I know that she is not afraid to use brutal words and images to tell the stories of these women and to describe the criminals who go after them. All of that is included in Rape: A Love Story. But it is the second half of the book’s title that hints at the most intriguing part of Teena Maguire’s story.

Teena, a thirty-something widow with a 12-year-old daughter, made a fatal mistake one dark night by deciding to cut through a deserted Niagara Falls park with her daughter on the walk home from a Fourth of July party. What should have been a relaxing ten-minute walk led instead to an experience that almost killed her and changed more than a few lives forever. Her daughter’s childhood would end in an instant, a Niagara Falls policeman would define “justice” in new terms, families would be pushed to the brink of bankruptcy in order to pay for unscrupulous defense attorneys, and a few thugs would realize that things were different now even for them.

Teena and Bethie were followed into the park by a gang of young men from the neighborhood, men high on booze and drugs and with one thing on their minds. They forced the two into an old boatshed where they punched and kicked them and gang-raped Teena. Luckily for Bethie, she was able to wedge herself into a spot so hard to reach that the rapists lost interest in her. But she had to listen to everything that happened and, when it was finally over, it was up to her to find help before her mother bled to death in the shed.

The complicated love story begins when young Niagara Falls policeman John Dromoor, first on the scene, finds himself intensely drawn to Teena and her daughter. He simply cannot forget what he saw that night and promises Teena and Bethie that he will do everything in his power to make things right for them. Bethie, who is terrified to live in the same neighborhood as the men awaiting trial for her assault, looks to Dromoor as her protector and feels a special kind of love for him. The mysterious, but unspoken, love that the three share seems to offer the only chance that Teena and Bethie have to put their shattered lives at least partially back together.

Oates has packed a lot into this book of barely 150 pages. She reminds the reader that violent crime impacts more lives than just those of the victim and the attacker. Families of the victim suffer a special kind of hell, but families of the attacker are forced to confront the dirty underbelly of family loyalty in a way that few really pass when it comes down to a question of whether or not to hire lawyers to distort the truth in an attempt to save their sons from prison. Will they excuse them for a terrible crime because they share the same blood? Will they really try to destroy the reputations of the victims in order to save their criminal sons? Sadly, we all know the answer to those questions.

Rated at: 4.5

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