The very first truth about this novel is that I feel uncomfortable just typing out its title. And I must admit that this book was difficult to rate as a result. Honestly, the first time that I saw it I was immediately pretty ready to rage scream at someone about how awful it is that someone would think it was even remotely okay or, skies forbid and to hell with the awful soul who thinks it’s funny. But, the fortunate thing about Rape Jokes by Louise MacGregor is that, despite the obviously unfortunate choice in title, the book is an insightful and respectful fictional account of a young woman’s struggle to work through the incredible trauma that comes from having been raped, realizing the truth of that fact, coming to terms with that fact, and functioning within a society that does not take that trauma seriously alongside troubling men, and women, who feel entitled to the bodies of other people.
This is not a book I read lightly. Now that I’ve finished, I can say that the worst thing about it is unquestionably the title, which I found jarring and uncomfortable in the beginning and continue to find incredibly jarring and uncomfortable. But the truth is that the situation in which the main character finds herself in IS jarring and uncomfortable. So, while I deeply dislike the title for obvious reasons, this book handles the subject matter incredibly well. And that, at the end of the day, is the most important thing to come from a book like this. Rape Jokes is, without question, the best portrayal of the aftermath of a rape that I have ever read in a novel. While the cover and title may be jarring and they are incredibly difficult to look at, I have to say that I am deeply impressed with the novel as a whole. And I think it is important to note the fact that, instead of packaging this book up in a way that makes the public comfortable with it, the author and publisher chose to instead present the situation in a manner that almost directly emulates feelings that people might typically have toward the traumatic themes discussed within this book.
Rape is not something to cover up in something pretty, but rather something that we need to discuss and tackle head-on in every single way possible until we live in a society and a world that takes these issues seriously on every level. And in this, I can respect though I do not particularly like, the author’s choice.
Rape Jokes is marketed as a romantic comedy though, frankly, I don’t see it that way. In fact, I find it kind of counterproductive and insulting for the book to be portrayed in this manner. To me, this novel seems more like a dark and therapeutic book, one that takes a real and deep look at the painful and traumatic experience of life after you have been raped. I found myself relating, in a great many ways, to the main character, Edie as she struggled through the aftermath of her rape and multiple assaults. And I do genuinely believe that this is a book that is important for others to read. It will be important to victims/survivors of abuse and it will be important to men and women who might not fully understand this trauma, to really open their eyes to just what someone goes through after they have been sexually assaulted. I was especially impressed and pleased to have seen the inclusion of vaginismus represented in Edie’s story, as well, something I have never seen before.
I’ve left this book feeling better for the fact that it exists, though it looks to me as though I’m the only one who has read it thus far, at least according to Goodreads. I’ve left this book knowing that there are going to be a large number of people who probably turn their noses up at it because of the title. I’ve left this book feeling as though, for the first time, I actually see a character who understands something I went through on a deep level which I have never had before. And I’ve left this book hopeful; I am hopeful that, as the world continues to spin, we will one day have a world where men and women are respectful of each others’ boundaries, a world where those who have suffered these traumas will find empathetic and understanding people as they move on with their lives. And I know these feelings aren’t all due to this book. Many of them came from the growth of the #MeToo movement, which the author has admitted fueled some of her writing for this book as she was working on a draft when it began.
But I am glad to have read it. I am better for having read it. Maybe others will be, too.