This one is a bit of a backlist, as it was published in 2016. However, its contents and story are still relevant, as they have always been, and as I fear they may always be. I wish I had more optimism for the future of gender equality, but stories like this one are all too real and the fact that so many people can relate to it just feels hopeless. Anyway, spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn’t read this and plans on reading it, so continue at your own risk. Also, trigger warning for sexual assault and harassment.
Maria Padian’s Wrecked is the story of a group of college kids, freshman and sophomore mostly, caught up in a case of sexual assault. When freshman Jenny James gets invited to a party by a sophomore and ends up traumatized by the events that occurred that night, she files a claim with the school in an attempt to sanction the student, Jordan Bockus, who raped her. The structure of the novel reads much like an episode of Law & Order: SVU, as each chapter switches character points of view and in between each chapter is a flashback scene showing what happened the night that Jenny was assaulted. Padian puts together in bits and pieces what happened while each character goes back and forth with the pieces of the puzzle they have. What is more interesting in the changing POV tactic is that the story isn’t being told directly by Jordan or Jenny, the two main players in the rape case, but rather by Richard and Haley, their respective roommates turned reluctant advisers who end up tangled in something they had no part of, but are now the channels by which the reader is getting the story. It’s entirely told by second-hand accounts from people who only know facts and details one page at a time. This feels so accurate to real life, as oftentimes the stories we hear are through the media, through friends or family, through coworkers. The victims and perpetrators hardly ever get the chance to speak for themselves when stories like this spread in real life. And regardless of which side the storytellers fall on, they are changing the narrative for better or for worse.
In terms of character development, I can’t say I particularly liked any of them as people. The story itself was compelling and kept me wanting to read. I disliked many of the characters, but didn’t hate them, but I certainly never felt any affection for any of them. It’s not to say they were terrible people, but rather they were flawed individuals that were difficult to empathize with because their imperfect values and ways of thinking made it hard to get to know them beyond the situation they found themselves in. I don’t think the point of this novel though is to create likable characters. I think the point was to root regular people in an awful situation, and that happened to bring out their worst traits, but not necessarily make them bad people. It’s complicated to explain how I felt about the character development, and if I’m being honest, it made me question my own thinking and how I sympathize with people in real life.
I did think the ending left something to be desired, because as the story came to a close, there seemed to be a huge focus on how the truth is subjective, which plays into the reality of how victims of assault and harassment want to be believed. Then, at the very last second on the very last page, the two narrators Haley and Richard, who have been romantically involved throughout the story, get a happy ending and suddenly everything about Jenny and how her life has been wrecked just disappears into the background, as if the story was never about her at all, but rather how the bystanders came together in the midst of this campus crisis. This is honestly what annoyed me the most about the novel, and I guess it relates to how things are in real life. The narrators are people who are indirectly involved and truthfully, they care more about how the events unfolding affect them and not about the victims that endured such trauma. If Padian’s aim was to depict how as a society we should be more outraged by rape, assault, and harassment, but actually aren’t, then kudos, she got the job done. If Wrecked was meant to change the conversation and provide a solution or at least a real dialogue to the grander problem, then it fell disappointingly short.
If any of my readers have read this book, what were your thoughts about how the subject matter was handled?
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