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I am serious, this is not a review. This rant originated while I was reading Maggie Shayne’s “Animal Magnetism” (originally in the Wild Thing anthology)

Bare bones set up: there’s a serial rapist about and no clues. The bastard wears a mask of some sort, beats his victims to within an inch of their lives, then rapes them and leaves. During one such attack, he shoots the victim’s dog. When the cops arrive, one of them takes the wounded Lab to the nearest vet… who happens to have a psychic ability that allows her to communicate with animals. Events unfold from there.

So far, so good, right? But then I got blindsided.

[reader beware: there be possible spoilers ahead]

A secondary character, who is first presented as the heroine’s only friend, is raped. That in itself is not what pissed me off-while I don’t enjoy violence of any kind, there are times when it’s necessary to tell the story  (for instance, see my review of Ride the Fire). As far as I’m concerned, that is not the case here.

Perhaps because it’s a short story (just over 80 pages) Ms Shayne didn’t have enough space to deal with this character’s trauma, but then I definitely would have preferred that she had found a different way to make her point. Instead, the way it’s written, this poor woman’s rape turns into a plot device, a simple excuse for further action in the next few pages.

NOT COOL.

Even that, by itself, would not have been enough to rile me up this much-again, space constraints, etc. No, what bothers me is that we are expected to believe that within days, with the perpetrator still unidentified and on the run, this woman is getting over it. (Before anyone corrects me: it’s not spelled out, but it is implied by her behaviour.)

That is what almost made me blow a gasket.

Then we have the domestic abuse thread, both as an explanation and motivation for the rapes.

Look, I’m not saying that the domestic abuse cycle doesn’t exist. I’m not saying that many people who wreak violence upon fellow human beings weren’t victims themselves.

What I am saying is that, having both these things in such a short story? It reeks of short hand for plot and characterization, and-if I may stretch it a bit-it’s abusive in it’s own way, because it trivializes both problems.

Nota bene: please note that I am not saying Ms Shayne intended any of the things I got from the story-I cannot know what she intended or thought while writing. I can just share my reactions, such as they are.

14 Comments »

  • AL, I do understand where you’re coming from. Knowing that it takes people their entire lifetimes to just learn to live with the things that happen to them, it’s a slippery slope at best to write about and a disaster to write badly.

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  • That is a weighty subject to address in 80 pages, considering the tangle of criminal, medical, and psycho-emotional issues involved. But since I haven’t read the story, it’s hard to comment further.

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  • Anon Y. Mouse
    June 14
    3:00 pm

    To play the devil’s advocate…not every rape victim considers it to be the end of the world. We don’t *all* end up huddled in a shower crying and rocking like you see in movies.

    People deal with things differently. Death, birth, abuse…there is no ‘right’ way for a rape victim to behave anymore than there is a ‘right’ way for someone to grieve a loved one’s death.

    I’ve been there, and while yes it was a very unpleasant experience I hope to never have again, I didn’t crumble and jump at every touch from a man. I was fine and back to my normal self in a couple days. I’m still fine 7 years later.

    Not everyone is permanently scarred by rape. Some are, most are even, but to me a story like that wouldn’t be unbelievable because I know from experience that rape doesn’t always take years to get over.

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  • Myra Willingham
    June 14
    3:05 pm

    The publisher for whom I edit will NOT contract a story if it has any kind of rape scene in it. They are sticklers for it, saying that the readers don’t want to read something like that. They want their stories with HEAs and all lovey-dovey. Unfortunately, life isn’t as rosy as that. Rape happens. My youngest sister was raped twenty years ago in her dorm and she has yet to get over it and that after years and years of paying a psych to sit there and nod at what she has to say.

    Getting over abuse of any kind…especially sexual abuse…takes longer than an 80 page book can present and months of gentle care. Moving along a plot to have the girl whole again simply to tell a tale is cheating the reader…as I’m sure you felt.

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  • Anon Y. Mouse: I agree and may I say, I’m glad that it didn’t affect you more than it did.

    But, to repeat myself, this is my reaction to this particular instance. And remember, this woman was not only raped, but beaten badly enough to end up in the hospital.

    Further, the impression I go (since as a secondary character we don’t get a lot of solid information on her) is that she didn’t have family or indeed many friends to help her through this–and my experience is that most people do need some emotional support and solid grounding to overcome these kind of things.

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  • Anon Y. Mouse
    June 14
    4:42 pm

    I must have missed the beating to within an inch of their lives bit. That would probably be harder for me to believe she’d gotten over in a couple of days. I’d find that more traumatizing, based on my personal history with physical abuse.

    I suppose it really does come down to one’s perceptions. But, since the majority of victims do take months, years, sometimes lifetimes to get over an attack, I’d as an author probably err on the side of caution if I ever wrote a rape.

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  • Lorraine
    June 15
    4:23 am

    While I don’t mind reading about forced sex between the HEAs in a romance *think old school books*, it gives me the jeebies to read about a violent, stranger rape. It’s always been one of my biggest fears in RL. I don’t like to watch movies about it or read about it…it’s too close for comfort.

    Very heavy subject matter for such a short story.

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  • FD
    June 15
    10:36 am

    Erk. I really don’t like rape used as a plot device, particularly if the aftermath is not dealt with well. 80 pages, esp with it as a sub-plot? I can’t see it being done justice.

    Mmmm. Lorraine, oddly, I find the opposite holds true for me. The forced sex trope gives me huge giant mondo skeeves, because it happens all the time and there are loads of guys who just don’t see it as wrong. Whereas most guys if asked would admit that violent stranger rape is ‘wrong of course’. Plus statistically, it’s actually more likely to be someone you know. *shudder*

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  • Myra Luz
    June 15
    2:01 pm

    It’s interesting because I brought this up at lunch I was having with another editor yesterday . She made the comment that the forced sex thing from the 1970s was pretty much a given in books by Rosemary Rogers for instance. She said she thought it was a generational thing and that women who began reading romance novels back then didn’t really think much about it. They didn’t ‘dwell’ on it she stated. Her opinion was once rape became a politically incorrect thing with the next generation was when it began to fester and readers began speaking out about it, turning away from authors like Rogers. (Actually, there have been a couple of her books that really made me quite ill. Whipping the heroine between her legs was a bit much even for a nasty vill)

    I tend to disagree somewhat with my fellow editor’s estimation. I don’t believe rape suddenly became politically incorrect. It’s not something that has ever been condoned though I agree it was widely accepted in the books of that era. It simply became a hot-button topic with that next generation…most of whom, thankfully…will never know the horror of being raped but might possibly know of someone or have heard of someone who endured that tragedy.

    Forced sex doesn’t bother me because I am of the generation who began reading in the 70s. It was rather titillating, actually. Hard core rape is another matter altogether and rape with a beating is just sick. I doubt any normal person would enjoy reading that and I have to wonder why Shayne felt the need to write about it in an 80-page piece.

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  • Jenns
    June 15
    4:45 pm

    Rape and domestic abuse in an 80 page romantic story???

    Hmm. Waaay too complicated and sensitive too pull off, IMHO.

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  • The main problem is that the rape: secondary character. The domestic abuse: secondary character/plotline.

    Which means that neither gets a fair shake, as far as I’m concerned, so I perceive their appearance as shorthand in lieu of characterization and plot development.

    Which in turn becomes fail of the story for me as a reader, and outrage over what I consider insensitive exploitation, as a person.

    I repeat, because I believe it’s important, that I don’t know what Ms Shayne was thinking or going for with these elements in her story. I can only speak to my reaction to them.

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  • Ann Bruce
    June 15
    11:45 pm

    Recovery doesn’t take days. It takes years…and years and years. And you never really recover (you cope, you deal, you get on with your life, but you don’t fully, truly recover) because it’s always in the back of your mind and it will colour everything in your life.

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  • Louise van Hine
    June 16
    4:32 am

    I think you said it well, AL: rape is not a “plot device.” I have seen authors do this in fanfiction – throw in some extreme plotline as a plot thickener, like a suicide, a rape, the murder of a friend, and OMG suddenly DRAMA DRAMA DRAMA. And really what the story becomes at that point is little more than soap opera, a form of exploitation, which is very unfortunate when the subjects are rape and domestic abuse.

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  • Lorraine
    June 16
    6:08 am

    @Myra Luz, I’m with you.

    It’s interesting because I brought this up at lunch I was having with another editor yesterday. She made the comment that the forced sex thing from the 1970s was pretty much a given in books by Rosemary Rogers for instance. She said she thought it was a generational thing and that women who began reading romance novels back then didn’t really think much about it. They didn’t ‘dwell’ on it she stated.

    Great point…I’m of that generation, too. I agree wholeheartedly that those of us who read romance in the 70s are least likely to be bothered about forced seduction scenes. I loved Rosemary Rogers books back in the day. Even though there was too much violence against the main characters, I still read them over and over throughout the 70s and 80s.

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