Book Review: Fault Line, C. Desir (2013)

August 25th, 2014 12:38 pm by mad mags

Well-Intentioned, but Sometimes Problematic

three out of five stars

(Trigger warning for rape.)

Just a few days before the start of his senior year, Ben meets her: Ani Taylor, the new kid in town. A California transplant, Ani is everything Ben wants in a girl: Direct. Outspoken. Ballsy. Artistic with just a hint of hippie chick optimism. Gorgeous, with legs that just won’t quit. And the best part? She’s totally into him, too.

All this changes when four or more young men gang-rape Ani during a house party. (While the book’s synopsis implies doubt about what exactly transpired at the party, Desir establishes that Ani was either a) drugged or b) intoxicated, either of which makes what happened rape.) As if being violently assaulted isn’t bad enough, first thing Monday morning the rumors start to fly. Before long, Ani’s known as the girl who fucked a lighter for an audience of strangers. Between the rape and subsequent bullying (“Firecrotch,” “Cum Dumpster,” and “The Manhole” are just a few of the nicknames devised by her classmates), Ani spirals into depression, shuts down emotionally, and begins acting out sexually. Meanwhile, Ben tries desperately to put the pieces of Ani – “his” Ani – back together again.

Fault Line is a well-intentioned look at rape that’s sometimes problematic. Before even starting the book, I was concerned that by telling the entirety of the story from Ben’s eyes, Desir would draw attention away from the real victim: Ani. To be fair, Desir populates Ben’s world with people – women: Ani’s best friend Kate; rape crisis counselor Beth; and fellow support group member Sofia – who remind him that this isn’t about him, but about Ani. And, ultimately, Ben is disabused of the notion that he alone can “fix” Ani, or that she even wants him to. Yet Ben still often comes across as narcissistic and self-centered; the real tragedy isn’t that multiple men violated Ani in the most horrific way possible, but that he’s lost his first love.

The rape occurs about 1/3 of the way into the book; for the first 70 pages, Desir introduces us Ben, Ani, and Ben + Ani, trying to make us care about them as people and as a couple. Maybe I’m just too old (36!), but I didn’t find either character relatable, or even all that likable. Though not an altogether odious guy, Ben has clearly spent the past 17 years internalizing misogyny; he’s full of sexist microaggressions (unease at thinking that his girlfriend might have had consensual sex with other guys; “staking his claim” on a girl, even as he acknowledges that this is what “cavemen” do; dismissing excessive displays of emotion as weak and feminine; etc.). His attitude toward Beth the rape crisis counselor is especially odious. For her part, Ani reads a bit like a Manic Pixie Dream Girl; and, in his insistence that she’s not like “other girls” – a special snowflake – Ben puts down the rest of girldom as frivolous, manipulative sluts.

(That said, it’s impossible not to empathize with Ani in the wake of the rape, bullying, and – hopefully – recovery.)

Of course, one could argue that the behavior and attitudes displayed by Ben, while sometimes obnoxious, are also realistic. And this may be true – but it doesn’t make them any less troublesome. This is why I wish Desir had given Ani a voice as well. Even just a chapter or two told from Ani’s perspective might have served to temper the (unintentional) sexism and (downright hostile) ignorance displayed by her boyfriend. Or she might have shown Ben greater pushback from the women in Ani’s life. On the contrary: Kate, who usually serves as a counter to Ben, sometimes engages in victim-blaming as well.

It seems like, in trying to capture the realities of modern teens, Desir sometimes reinforces the very rape culture she set out to critique. Or at least lets it off a little too easily.

A solid 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 on Amazon and Goodreads. Fault Line has the best of intentions, but doesn’t always deliver on them.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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One Response to “Book Review: Fault Line, C. Desir (2013)”

  1. Book Review: The Truth About Alice, Jennifer Mathieu (2014) » vegan daemon Says:

    […] horrifying as I’d feared; The Truth About Alice is, thankfully, free of rape, a la C. Desir’s Fault Line. Also worth noting is the fact that Alice wouldn’t be deserving of such treatment even if the […]

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