5/10/14: Holy shitballs. Talk about a heart breaking sucker-punch of a book. Everyone needs to read this. Review to come.
My review, originally posted here: www.thetometravellers.wordpress.com
I’m not quite sure where to start with Fault Line. First of all, this book is about rape and I want to say I’m a little nervous to be writing this review cos I don’t want to come across as being uneducated about rape (I feel like I am though, to be honest). I think everyone should read this book. Everyone. It is about how rape affects the victim – the shame they feel, the blame that gets incorrectly placed on them – and how they change because of it. It is also about how rape affects not only the victim but those closest to them.
I read it on my Kindle in the space of 6 hours. I started around 11pm and finished about 5am. I gotta say, it’s been a fair while since I binge read a book to that time of the morning, but I just could not stop reading.
For me, it was hard to put down because of the way the story unfolds. It’s told from Ben’s POV. It is his girlfriend Ani who gets raped. The first paragraph is a scene set a few months after the rape and then it goes back 6 months earlier and whole story is told from there. So after reading that first paragraph, you know right from the start that Ani and Ben aren’t going to end up in a good place. And it’s so sad because of how their story starts out. They meet, they fall in like, they start dating and they fall in love. And then Ani gets raped. I was reading it and dreading the moment when it was all going to change, but at the same time, I just had to keep reading to find out what brought Ani and Ben to that point.
What I liked:
- The POV: While I did really want to know what was going through Ani’s head at times, I like that Fault Line is told from Ben’s POV. It’s not often that stories involving rape are told from the viewpoint of the person who hasn’t actually been raped. As hard as it is for the victim, I liked that we got to see how hard it was for Ben too.
- The ending: It was abrupt and normally, I hate abrupt endings. And I don’t know why but it just worked for me with this book. Sure, it was left unresolved, but there was going to have to be a lot more words written for me to feel some sort of resolution there and I liked that there was no bullshit ‘he-saved-her-in-the-end’ because you don’t ‘save’ a rape victim. You be understanding. And you be there for them in any way they need.
Christa Desir has written an amazing debut. A complete sucker punch of a book. I think her own personal experiences and work as a rape victim activist really shows here: you feel as if it was written by someone who really knew the topic they were writing about.
Fault Line is such an important book and I’m going to repeat myself here by saying that I think everyone should read it. Everyone.
Hooray! This review is NOT particularly spoilery!
One-sentence summary: A serviceable novel, written by someone experienced in the subject matter, covering an important topic from an interesting perspective, but ultimately not plotted complexly enough or written beautifully enough to be an enduring literary contribution.
The plot. Ani is the new girl in town--a free spirit with a sharp tongue, a strong personality, and an artistic mother. Ben, the protagonist, is a good and decent kid, a half-Haitian swimmer, hoping to get a swim scholarship to a university in Iowa. Ben's and Ani's attachment grows in a believable way, and they embark fairly thoughtfully and deliberately on a sexual relationship. Ani and her mother are so close and comfortable with each other, they also discuss this step together. When Ani is raped at a party that Ben chose not to go to, Ani is devastated and Ben is thrown into a situation he's unprepared for. Ben feels guilt at not being there to protect her, rage at the boys who did it, and confusion about the conflicting "fog of war" reports by other people at the party. Ani suffers pain, humiliation, and the abusive comments of her classmates, who think she was a willing participant. Her response is first to pull inward, and then to become what everyone thinks she is--a promiscuous girl who "asked for it." Ben wants to help her, and he's genuinely supportive, but her spiral down into self-hatred is out of his control. How do you help someone who pushes you away? They are alone dealing with this, as Ben goes along with Ani's desire not to tell her mother. The end does not wrap up neatly, perhaps in keeping with how open-ended healing can be after such a horrific experience.
The topic. Fault Line explores the aftermath of sexual assault from the perspective of the boyfriend of the victim. As such it's a valuable contribution to the discussion, because it's not the voice of a perpetrator, but a boy who is loving and caring and wants to help, but doesn't have the tools. There are plenty of young men who are or will be a family member, or friend, or lover to someone who experiences rape, and bringing them into the conversation is important. Ben initially has nothing at his disposal but rage and a desire to protect. He learns quickly not to judge, to hold his questions at bay, to be supportive, to say (some of) the right things. But he's a beginner; he's in over his head and not used to reaching out for help himself. To top it off, the help he does get is of mixed value. The rape counselor is a very young, unseasoned part-time volunteer; the web forums have anonymous (and therefore questionably real) participants; the advice he gets online is conflicting and sometimes wrong. Ben begins to lose himself--lose swimming, lose his scholarship, lose the closeness he had with his family--because of the secret he holds for Ani, and because of the energy he pours into trying to "fix" her.
The writing. Unfortunately, while the writing is pleasingly plain and grammatically fluent, it's not nuanced. There is almost nothing between the lines, and some sections are downright didactic. The author points this out in almost a meta-way through Ben, who says the rape-counselor-volunteer is speaking some sort of trained psycho-babble. "What does that even mean?" he challenges more than once. But we readers suspect that we're supposed to absorb what she's saying, because the author is teaching us through her.
Ani. One of the only problems with having the narrative from the boyfriend's perspective in first-person is the risk that other characters will become flat. While some of Ani's opaqueness is appropriate--Ben can't understand the changes in her, after all, and we're hearing his voice--I hadn't gotten close enough to her before the rape to know her well. It meant that I was watching something horrible happen to her, without caring deeply for her. Yes, I was outraged as a woman and as a person at the attack, but I didn't connect with her beforehand, which is a shame. It doesn't help that at a key moment she speaks not like a person, but like a case study: "Don't you see? If I don't hate myself, I don't feel anything at all. At least disgust feels better than nothing."
Flash Forward. Chapter One starts with a flash forward, which I think was a mistake. It tells us where Ani ends up, later in the novel, and makes the build to that moment inevitable and expected. It doesn't give us the chance to long for Ani to find peace and help along the way. It would have been better for us to get there in real time. In general, flashbacks and flashforwards disrupt our feeling that we're a fly on the wall, watching the action unfold. They jolt us out of the story--they always risk showing us the structure, or scaffolding of a story, when we prefer to feel transported.
In sum. Like Laurie Halse Anderson's The Impossible Knife of Memory (review here), this book tackles an important issue that needs to be addressed in literature, but does it in a way that's ordinary enough (artistically) that the book itself is not as memorable as it should be. To be fiction that lasts, the story has to have layers, and themes, and a complexity that makes reading and re-reading a process of continual discovery and effort on the part of the audience.
Before I even start with this review, I want to forewarn you that this story is not pretty. It’s ugly, dark and the cold hard truth. If you do not like rape stories, especially ones that are graphic and dark, I suggest you take care when you read this.
Once upon a time, I was college and met this girl. Let’s call her A. She was fun, free and loud. One night at a party something went wrong and she was never the same. After that, she didn’t seem to care about anything. All she wanted to do was party hard and harder. People started to talk about her and she didn’t even bat an eye. She told me that she was pregnant, had an abortion and went to party again. Only to call me a few weeks later, saying that she might be pregnant again and needed to borrow money from me for another abortion. I put my foot down and talked to her. She didn’t like what I had to say and stop being my friend. I felt like I lost and had no idea what to do to help her. After years of destroying herself, her body and her soul, she finally came clean. We became friends again but it wasn’t the same.
What Fault Line reads is true. And unfortunately I lived through that exact thing with my friend. Every minute of every day she destroyed everything. She took blame in for what happen to her and carried it around everywhere. No matter what I said to her, to no avail would she listen. I thank God that she did eventually got the help that she needed but it took years.
What I want to say is that many people may not like this story and the pictures it paints. But guess what? We live in a REAL WORLD, with ugly people. This stuff happens FOR REAL. People self-destruct and it not only hurts them but hurts others around them. Not everything occurs just like the story but each victim has their own story to tell and their own heartache to go through.
So when you read this story, think about the girls and boys who go through this. Who hide everything inside just to live. Who live with this darkness that they can not get rid of no matter how hard they push it aside. It’s takes months…years of help to get even an ounce of some normalcy.
In short, this book is good…really good. I swear it was like I was living my Freshmen year all over again. It made me cry and it made me angry that I didn’t do more for A. Read it.