Rape as a crime is rarely examined in crime fiction. If rape is considered it is usually part of a bigger crime, murder or serial murders. This changes with Winnie M. Li’s Dark Chapter (Polis Books). Based on her own rape while hiking in Belfast, Li not only writes from the point of view of the victim, she also takes on the point of view of the rapist.
Then he remembers: just a few hours earlier, swaying in the dark street with Gerry and Donal, drinking a mouthful of cheap whiskey and then another. There’d been pills that night. And dope. He remembers wandering into a pub with the lads, getting chased out by the owner. Then hunkering down at Gerry’s and watching porn.
Not only does Li’s novel move from each perspective but it hovers between times whether present, the extreme past, the day of the crime, and the days and months after the crime. With all of these pieces, it would be easy to get lost — we don’t —, but I believe Li chooses to use all of these slices of time and persons to emphasize the jarring and violent nature of rape. There is nothing smooth and easy here.Li also captures the differences between Vivian’s personalities pre- and post-rape and we journey with her as she tries to come to terms with the crimes against her. At times there is numbness and other times a calculated detail. As a male reader of
Li also captures the differences between Vivian’s personalities pre- and post-rape she tries to come to terms with the crimes against her. At times the writing depicts a numbness, other times a calculated detail, and other times a naivete. As a male reader of Dark Chapter, I worked hard to empathize with Vivian’s experiences and, hopefully, I succeeded in doing so, but it was Li’s delving into the mind of her rapist, Johnny, that I felt was an extraordinary feat: a victim telling the story from the rapist’s point of view.
As crime fiction reviewers begin to think about their Top 10 lists for 2017, the only reason that Winnie Li’s Dark Chapter would not appear on someone’s list is that the reviewer did not have the time to read the book. Don’t let that person be you. There is no doubt that Dark Chapter is a difficult book to read, but it is also a great book to read.