In Chris Lynch's 2005 young adult novel Inexcusable
(2005 National Book Award Finalist – Young People's Literature, 2005 School Library Journal's Best Books, 2006 YALSA Best Books for Young Adults) is a disturbing tale of the effects of rape culture from the inside. In narrator Keir Sarafian, high school senior and football star, Lynch has created a sickeningly realistic embodiment of a teen rapist.
The book opens in the aftermath of Keir's post-prom date rape of his perennial crush, Gigi Boudakian – or rather, what Keir spends the rest of the book trying to explain was not rape, couldn't
have been rape. Each alternating chapter is a flashback to earlier events in his senior year, stories that he uses to show the strength of his character. He's the kind of guy who stays home on a Saturday night to play board games with his widower dad, the kind of guy who idolizes his older sisters, the kind of guy who looks out for his teammates and doesn't even party that hard. A good guy. Not a rapist kind of guy. But all the boyish, good-natured nighttime shenanigans that Keir recounts – the harmless hazing, experimental pill-popping and minor vandalism – appear frighteningly different by the light of day, even to him, and a much darker picture of him emerges.
Keir's self-delusion is strengthened by the permissiveness of his authority figures. His elite athlete status lets him be excused and sometimes even rewarded for his crimes: when he cripples a football opponent with a violent tackle, he is rewarded with college scholarships. By the end of the book, it seems improbable that Keir will receive any sort of punishment for raping Gigi, and the incident will only feed his sense of entitlement.
It is rare to see a book about rape from the perspective of the rapist, and Keir addresses the reader in a profoundly unsettling tone of familiarity, trying to defend himself by showing how normal he is. And the very normality of his life only makes his actions all the more chilling. The rape is not an outstanding event – it is simply the next logical step in his lifestyle, one in which his feelings seem to determine reality. Possibly the scariest of his excuses is that he could not possibly have raped Gigi, because he loves her
. Lynch slowly and masterfully makes the reader an unwilling confidante, testing the limits of our sympathy and forcing us to ask the same questions of ourselves as we ask of Keir.
Throughout the book, Keir repeats "the way it looks is not the way it is." In other words, the way is looks is not the way he wants it to be. The way it looks is not the way it felt. "Unreliable narrator" is an understatement here. Keir's intense denial of the truth underscores the fact that rape is a reality, not something that only a select few are capable of. Maybe you knew this guy in high school, or maybe you were this guy in high school, or maybe you know someone even vaguely like this – but the point here is not that everyone is a potential rapist, but that rape does not occur in a vacuum, especially not when it involves teenagers, and that everyone who enforces the attitudes that fuel rape culture is a participant in it. Inexcusable
is not light, cuddly or uplifting, but it is indispensable.