Friday, 1 April 2016

The Fan Man by William Kotzwinkle


I am just so sick of reading books that include rape. So many, just in the last couple of weeks, and on top of current events, it's too fucking much. I'm tired of being barraged by it, of having it be a sidenote thrown into a book that is otherwise hilarious. Of having it treated lightly, off-handedly, mostly in connection to how it affects the male main characters. There are very few books that I've read recently where I think it's been handled well.

When I say very few, I mean one. Once. In the last year. And I had to do a lot of thinking after the book was over about what I thought about it. I ended up believing that it was included well and for a powerful reason, and not used gratuitously. And that's fine. As long as it's fucking rare.

If it happens all the time it becomes distressing. That's what's been happening to me - thanks, Leonard Cohen. I needed to know that your main character's reaction to the gang rape of his Native American wife when she was 13 was to cause a reverie about the sexiness of 13-year-olds. Thanks, William Kotzwinkle, in the midst of this absurdism, I needed to have an insert where a Puerto Rican man came through the window and raped the girl the main character was sleeping with, and the character's reaction is to be upset he won't get to sleep with her. Thanks, Stephen Baxter, I needed to watch multiple homicides by men in order that they could rape. (Seriously, we're at a majority of men who are rapists in Proxima, and cannibal rapists have just been introduced.)

By luck, I've never been the victim of sexual assault. But I sure do enjoy being reminded every time I open a fucking book that it's a possibility! 

I would like to connect everyone to John Scalzi's blogpost on the issue. Think about it. Think about what the author's doing with it. Particularly read this sentence, which is from the first paragraph of his first comment on the blog post: "Again, narrative and plotting are authorial choices, not naturally occurring phenomena over which the writer has no control." Rape isn't inevitable in fiction. The author made a choice to put it in there. Perhaps not a well-thought out choice. Maybe they didn't even think about it. But it was a choice to bring it in and do something with it.

Or, even more infuriatingly, not doing anything with it. When it's thrown into what is honestly, otherwise, a fairly hilarious book about an entirely ineffectual hippie who spends his time selling organic carrots he doesn't have, trying to pick up young chicks, organizing a choir and just trying to leave his apartment, what possible purpose is served by throwing in a two page scene in which the girl you want to sleep with tells you she was raped?

What does it add? Why is it there? 

It is so aggravating, because I would have thoroughly enjoyed this book otherwise. There were parts of it that were quite hilarious. And it's such a small part of the book. But coming on the heels of what feels like a barrage of fictional rape scenes, it spoiled the book for me. 

And I can't think of a damned thing it added.

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