Rape: A Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates (Carroll & Graf, 2003, 154pp.)
On their way home from a Fourth of July party, Teena Maguire and her 12-year-old daughter, Bethie, make the mistake of taking a short-cut through the sketchy-looking park near the town lagoon. Halfway across the park, the pair are suddenly set upon by a group of local hoodlums and dragged into a nearby boathouse. Teena is brutally beaten and raped, while Bethie manages to avoid harm by hiding in a corner. While the attack leaves both mother and daughter traumatized, it’s nothing compared to the preliminary hearing that follows when Teena decides to press charges. Not only does the hot-shot defense lawyer launch a smear campaign against them, but the judge seems to treat the entire affair as a joke not worth his time. Justice is served, however, after John Dromoor, a sympathetic cop, becomes the family’s avenging angel and dispatches the rapists one by one.
Rape: A Love Story really isn’t anything special—and it most certainly isn’t a love story (although Bethie’s gratitude and hero-worship of Dromoor could be seen as a juvenile sort of crush). A shallow, simplistic work of cumbersome prose, this sadly mistitled tale of woe follows the Maguire family’s journey from victimization to recovery without providing a single insight into the human condition, or, let’s face it, even a little character development. We never really see Teena as anything other than a victim, or of Dromoor as a human being. We know that Dromoor and Teena are friendly acquaintances, but why does he go to such lengths to avenge this family at the cost of his career and his personal freedom?
The verdict: there’s little “love” in this short novel. If you’re looking for a powerful tale about sexual assault’s impact on women, you probably should look elsewhere.
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