Where to start with this one? A controversial title (I received some askance looks when reading this on my daily commute) perhaps, but as with all works by Joyce Carol Oates carefully chosen, not for shock value but to reflect what the nub of the story really is.

Rape is about Teena Maguire, a single mother, and her daughter Bethie, 12 years old, and the consequences of their short-cut through a local park late at night after a Fourth of July party. Teena is raped by a number of men who are high on drugs and alcohol, beaten and left for dead; Bethie is beaten but escapes, though she can hear from her hiding place what is happening to her mother.

The men’s families hire a lawyer who is able to get their charges reduced to assault by claiming that there was consent and the beating and so on must have been carried out by a different group of men who came along later; after all, no-one actually witnessed the rape. Some of the most difficult parts of the story are here, where the justice system seems to fail Teena and Bethie; the author has made it clear from the start that these men are guilty, there is no room for ambiguity or doubt, but Teena’s poor choice that night, her dress and her family circumstances are used against her. But there is one man who is determined to see justice done, and the latter part of the novella concentrates on how he achieves that; whether his actions are right or wrong is left to the reader to decide.

This is an incredibly powerful story, but not to everyone’s taste; I’m sure many will find it a difficult read. I have said elsewhere that I admire Joyce Carol Oates greatly, and a number of her novels deal with the undercurrent of violence in modern society and how it often erupts into the lives of otherwise ordinary families, and this is no exception. The events stay with Bethie into her adult life.

This is my fifth read for the Novella Challenge.

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