Oates on Rape

Rape: A Love Story

By Joyce Carol Oates

Art, incorporating literature, can be written as a form of escaping the trials of life. However, it can also illuminate problems and issues, for these are by no means restricted to the non-fiction lists.

This short selection from Joyce Carol Oates’ large and varied oeuvre of work focuses in the most direct and raw way on rape and its aftermath. It’s powerful and disturbing in terms of the particulars of the gang rape, the effect on the victims, and the manner in which the justice system further victimizes the victims. However, the revenge element really doesn’t represent the reality of the vast majority of, perhaps not any, rape victims, for few find an avenger like NFPD officer John Dromoor, and, probably, many would not welcome such an individual anyway. But in fiction, and films, too, audiences feel better with closure than they do with the loose ends and injustices of life.

Oates keeps the story pithy, as she has done with many of her more brutal excursions into crime fiction, the first couple coming to mind being Daddy Love (child enslaver, rapist, and killer) and Zombie (psychopathic killer). Here, she also employs an interesting and unusual stylistic device, sort of a blending of the close third-person and first-person in the form of a narrator recounting and reminding an adult Bethie of what happened to her mother and her on July 4, 1996, when a drunken and drug crazed group of men and boys attacked the pair. These men and boys raped and beat mom Teena, leaving her for dead, and would have raped Bethie had she not hid from them.

Brutal as the rape is, what follows, at least equals it in barbarity. Teena finds her reputation completely destroyed as she lies for weeks in the hospital recovering and her daughter living under constant threat from the gang of assailants. Additionally, while the trial is supposed to be of the assailants, as in real life, it’s as much a trial of the victim and her family.

Unlike real life, though, Teena and Bethie find they have an avenger, Dromoor, who believes, at least in this case, taking justice into his own hands is justified. And he indeed serves up a form of fatal street retribution on the rapists. In the process, he gives meaning to the subtitle, “A Love Story,” for into her adult life, married, educated, and living in New York City, John Dromoor is never far from Bethie’s thoughts.

Rape: A Love Story is by no means for everybody, not even avid JCO readers. But for those who like seeing art tackling issues in bold and direct ways, as well as those who enjoy raw crime fiction, and particularly JCO fans who look forward to those occasions when she crosses over into the dark side, it’s a worthy read. w/c

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