“Rape: A Love Story” by Joyce Carol Oates


Rape: A Love Story is one of the most brutal, disturbing, sick, memorable, and riveting stories ever to come forth from the lurid imagination of Joyce Carol Oates.

 Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul. ― Joyce Carol Oates

I love it!

God have mercy on me, I love it. Me, the squeamish one who flinches at horror and violence and avoids the thriller genre and police procedurals because I believe in rehabilitation versus retribution.

Except when dealing with unrepentant narcissists,

people so evil, they will never change, and the only solution is to rid the world of their criminal presence. That is a very dangerous thing to say, to think even in the privacy of my own head, but thank God for writers like Joyce Carol Oates (JCO), who dares to give voice to the dark thoughts we try not to acknowledge (much less act on!).

Keangarooview: 5 stars!

Teenage rapists, drunk on the Fourth of July, violate a woman

in the most brutal and dehumanizing way and leave her for dead. Oops, she doesn’t die. And her 12-year-old daughter heard it all, hidden behind canoes in a boathouse. No danger of facing the consequences, though: rich daddies can hire lawyers and keep their boys out of jail.

Oh, and the locals will help, gossiping and speculating. Teena McGuire shouldn’t have dressed that way, shouldn’t have walked home on a night of revelry through a dimly lit park, shouldn’t have had her daughter with her, shouldn’t have been at a bar, shouldn’t, shouldn’t, shouldn’t–so, “She had it coming” seems to be the consensus of a community.

There is one force nobody has reckoned with in this town: John Dromoor. He’s the first cop on the scene after Bethie McGuire’s mother is gang-raped. A hero, in more ways than one. This is where the paradoxical title comes into play. “A love story” might connotate romance of the falling-in-love sort, but Romance has a long history of other connotations and themes.

Dromoor is brilliantly wrought, born in JCO’s feverish imagination, informed by JCO’s familiarity with Dostoevsky, Kafka, Thoreau, Lewis Caroll, and the classics. He’s a Gulf War veteran. He’s damaged. ‘One bright, hallucinatory morning in the desert, he saw his soul curl up and die like an inchworm in the hot sand.’


Dromoor is dangerous in a quiet, calm, controlled way,

a latent Rambo (see David Morrell’s original version of that vigilante). For all his disillusionment, weariness, and cynicism, however, Dromoor still has a heart. He cares about Teena, not in the platitude-mumbling way of most people who care, but in a real and visceral way. Love is a verb, and it can be a very active one. It can be the most violent of verbs, and the most platonic. Much of this novella focuses on a 12-year-old girl’s hero-worship of the one man who could show how much he cared, which matters all the more when everyone else was willing to blame the victim and let crimes slide.

The prose is riveting, with that hallmark breathless rush that distinguishes the voice of JCO from all others. The story is gripping, brutal, heartbreaking, horrifying, yet gratifying. You might hate yourself for loving Dromoor so much. It’s easy to see why 12-year-old Bethie is enamored of him, the one man in her life who does more than just care. He acts. Words of love and consolation come easy, but acting on them is a stretch beyond what most people will do. Dromoor’s handwritten not to Teena, Any hour of the day or night. D, is also handwritten in the book, and that one sentence is so high impact, I had to re-read it several times.

That’s the thing about JCO.

I used to copy whole passages, in long-hand, into a notebook, whenever I came across vivid, riveting, memorable prose. Now I have a Kindle, and it’s not the same thing, highlighting the text.

The locals, their gossip, their judgments, the devotion of families, the lengths that parents will go to, in order to bail out their offspring – there is so, so much stuff here, a book club could talk all night long. Lines like this:

Nate crowed. “See? You assholes? What I told you. I’d of been there, you needed to finish the job and dump ’em both. Tied down with rocks. Save your old man having to sell his boat.”

No sympathy for the killers, nor the parents going into debt trying to keep their boys out of prison. Not from JCO. She tackles misogyny head-on, ruthlessly, cutting the criminals no slack.

I’m looking forward to the 2017 movie version, Vengeance: A Love Story, available on Netflix and other venues.

Changing the title from Rape to Vengeance has its merits, but casting Nicholas Cage as Dromoor just shows Hollywood’s total lack of fidelity to authors and their intent. Dromoor is young, more like Robert Patrick[*] in Terminator 2. Any young and unknown actor with a cool, hard Clint Eastwood vibe would have been better than Cage, who runs hot. Smoldering is great, in other roles, but not this one.

Vengeance: A Love Story is a 2017 American thriller film directed by Johnny Martin and written by John Mankiewicz. It is based on the 2003 novel Rape: A Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates. The film stars Nicolas Cage, Don Johnson, Anna Hutchison, Talitha Bateman and Deborah Kara Unger. The film was released on September 15, 2017, by FilmRise. (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)


After their slick lawyer gets them off for a violent assault, four criminals find themselves the target of a cop with his own brand of justice.(Netflix)

I kinda-sorta hate myself for being such a fan of a story that is so dark, so full of retribution. But my sister was raped and murdered in 1975, and her killer(s) never faced arrest, much less the scandal of a trial, much less imprisonment, and I confess that if I were a war veteran, a soldier, a Dromoor, and if I knew (knew! beyond a doubt!) who got away with my sister’s murder, I would quietly set about plotting the demise of the kind of men who rape, kill, and dispose of bodies like roadside trash.

But that is a novel in itself, and so I will just say that JCO nails it – man’s inhumanity to man – yet it is a hallmark of JCO to deliver a ray of hope and something positive emerging from the darkest stories.

I’ve bought three extra copies of this novella to give to friends. That is higher praise than 5 Stars.

I’m afraid to endorse it at the Iowa Cold Cases site, lest it inspire those who’ve lost a loved one to administer vigilante justice, Dromoor style. It could be a thing, you know.  When our local police don’t rein in the bad guys, when the community fails to light a fire under their taxpayer-hired LE to locate the killer among them, when nobody else cares about a life that was stolen, violently, horribly, then desperation is one possible response. Jody Ewing nailed it in an email to me:

It’s a remarkable thing to behold. Hard to describe, really… You see how every single family starts out “knowing for certain” the killer or killers will be caught, and then watch their transition as they move through all these other stages of grief, except it’s a different kind of grief and a different set of stages because there is always THE UNKNOWN and the death was usually SO UNEXPECTED. You’ve heard it said thousands of times, but it’s true: No parent ever expects to have to bury a child.

A journalist with degrees in Social Science and Criminal Justice, a Private Investigator license, and years of studying cold cases, Jody Ewing understands the progression of a case that goes cold:

…. being transported back to that date when the crime actually happened, and then taking note of every development or dead end lead and reading through months and months of interviews the press did with the family, right up until the day the case goes cold, and then noticing the distinct change in how the family addresses the press once it’s gone cold.

Anxiety, nightmares and a nervous breakdown, there’s only so many traumas a person can withstand until they take to the streets and start screaming. – Blue Jasmine (2013)

[*] Billy Idol Almost Played the T-1000 in ‘Terminator 2,’ Robert Patrick Says via @thr

“My agent sold me to the T2 casting director (Mali Finn) as a cross between David Bowie and James Dean,” Patrick said, laughing, “So, I was trying to create an intense presence while I was sitting with Mali. I had this intense stare, which she liked.”


That intense stare – YES!

That is Dromoor. And Clint Eastwood. And my husband. He got it from his father (below, right). Speaking of #COOL, that’s my grandpa on the left. (Yes, my husband has been told he resembles Robert Patrick.)

Biased? Me?

I know what I like!

And I love, love, love Joyce Carol Oates.

“It makes me angry sometimes, it’s a visceral thing–how you come to despise your own words in your ears not because they aren’t genuine, but because they are; because you’ve said them so many times, your ‘principles,’ your ‘ideals’–and so damned little in the world has changed because of them.” ― Joyce Carol Oates, Black Water

About carolkean

novelist, reviewer, editor, book critic for Liberty Island and Perihelion Science Fiction; native prairie/guerilla gardener; champion of liberty, indie authors & underdogs; one of the top two reviewers in Editors &Preditors Poll 2015; Amazon Vine, NetGalley Top Reviewer
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2 Responses to “Rape: A Love Story” by Joyce Carol Oates

  1. Beth Camp says:

    Carol, your review invites me to read a book I would normally shun by a writer I admire, JCO. A stunning review. Thank you!


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