October's theme is FACT VS. FICTION and I gasped out loud when I heard that because it fits so perfectly with my latest YA novel, SOMEONE I USED TO KNOW, as well as its predecessor, SOME BOYS.
Both novels deal with rape and rape culture. While Some Boys was a "who do you believe story," Someone tries to answer "what do I do now?" But both novels introduce characters that APPEAR one way but ACT another. I think that's the most frightening disguise there is.
Think about words like MONSTER, RAPIST, SWINDLER, CHILD MOLESTOR. What does your imagination conjure up? We imagine deranged or even disfigured barely human men hiding in shadows, or perhaps the mask-wearing sexual deviant. But in reality, we're always - always! -- surprised when we learn monsters can look like Ted Bundy, rapists can look like Brock Turner, SWINDLERS can look like Bernie Madoff, and child molestors look amazingly, appallingly, like priests.
This disparity haunted me -- it still does. That's why I deliberately wrote the rapists in both Some Boys and in Someone I Used To Know as "nice boys." Zac McMahon comes from a successful family; Victor Patton is a respected player on his school's football team. Zac is blond and blue eyed -- he can't possibly be a bad boy! Vic has dimples -- he can't possibly be bad!
Their handy normal, clean-cut, perhaps even pretty appearances disguise personalities that demand rewards for athletic achievements, that expect services from anyone who catches their eye, that assume they're entitled to those rewards and services even when -- especially when -- they're told no.
It's a pattern that has played out repeatedly throughout history. Here's another quote from Bundy:
No stereotypes? Hmmm. Then why do we, as a society, keep insisting on adhering to them? Every time we express fear of the black man in the hooded sweatshirt but not at the son of the rich family or the boy on the swim team, we're exhibiting stereotyping at its most basic form.
And then, when someone accuses the rich family's son or the swimmer -- or the Supreme Court nominee -- of rape, we gasp, clutch our pearls, and insist SHE'S LYING because if she isn't, then we're wrong, we've always been wrong, everything was wrong, and we need a new lens through which to observe everyone around us.
(This is precisely what I'm saying.)
How many others are there? If Brock Turner and Brett Kavanaugh and Harvey Weinstein are all guilty, how many other nice, clean cut, pretty, Ivy-league educated or wealthy and powerful men out there are ALSO GUILTY, but we couldn't see past their disguises?
THAT is a horrifying question, isn't it? And I PROMISE you, the answer is "too many."
Grace in Some Boys and Ashley in Someone both figure out the truth by looking beyond what the world sees. You know how you remove someone's disguise?
Watch how they act.
Zac in Some Boys literally wakes his mother up one night so she can reheat the dinner he missed. He doesn't care that it's ten o'clock. He cares only that he's hungry, and it's her DUTY to feed him. He's more than capable of operating the microwave. That's not the point. The point is, he EXPECTS this. Grace becomes obsessed with the idea of showing the world Zac's 'game face,' which is the face under his mask. Slowly, best friend Ian Russell begins to see Zac for who he really is -- a boy who considers girls to be here "for him." He watches Zac flirt with a server at a restaurant, with girls at school, and with his sister....but says nothing because he thinks Zac is a great guy. Throughout the novel, Ian makes excuses for Zac's less than honorable behavior. There's a scene in which Ian and his father talk about a former neighbor who used to beat his wife. Ian's father tells his son, "You never truly know somebody until you live with them."
People have learned how to present their "game face" to the outside world. Watching how they act when the pressure's on, when too much alcohol has lowered their inhibitions, when they think no one is watching.... that's when you can see behind the mask.
In Someone I Used To Know, Ashley struggles to forgive her brother, Derek, for his role in her assault. There are multiple layers of disguise for her to remove. When they were small, he was her Hero Brother. But that was a child's perception of the truth. After her assault, she saw him as something close to a co-conspirator. But that was a victim's perception of the truth. In the end (SPOILERS!), she is finally able to see Derek as he really is... flawed, human, but willing to change.
In a country where facts are smeared with the stains of a praetorian administration, it's never been so important, so crucial, for us to look beneath the surface for the truth. Unmask the current leaders by watching how they act, how they behave, when they think no one's watching. Watch the videos of senators and congressmen ignoring constituents who try to talk to them, who snap at reporters that they don't care what people think, who tell the nation that they'll do whatever it takes to get back at some political opponent...or at a woman who accused the Supreme Court nominee of assault.
People of quality do NOT stand on a world stage and encourage viewers to mock and laugh at a sexual assault survivor.