Today’s team review is from Jennie. She blogs here https://jenniferdebie.com/
Jennie has been reading The Castle by Anne Montgomery
There is a conversation in literature, film, and art in general surrounding what can be broadly termed “creator intent”. Essentially, why was this piece of art or music or film or writing produced? How was it intended to impact its audience?
For some novelists, maybe even most novelists, this intent can be boiled down to entertainment plain and simple. Yes, they can tell profound stories with nuanced characters in exciting worlds, but at the end of the day all of these serve at the pleasure of the audience, the readers.
And then you get novelists like Anne Montgomery, where, while the intent to entertain is there, that entertainment is in service to a more profound intention, a deeper message that Montgomery makes explicit.
This is a book about rape, and rape survivors, and the profoundly terrifying truth that very few rape cases are purely random chance—most frequently the perpetrators are known to their victims, lurking in their familial or social circle. Indistinguishable from the innocents.
The way Montgomery conveys this is a masterclass in perspective. Across The Castle, chapters alternate between Maggie, our protagonist who enters this story as a rape survivor with her own boatload of trauma, and the unnamed serial rapist who has her in his sights. Over the course of the novel we learn plenty about the rapist, his backstory, motivations, personal philosophy, and the fact that he has a job that allows him to move frequently and thus leave a place after he has “fed the beast” that is his monstrous appetite—but who is he?
Is he the unfriendly, scuba diving biologist who is on temporary assignment studying the Montezuma’s Well, a natural spring in the National Park where Maggie and most of the characters work? Is he the cute waiter at the local winery who Maggie had a one night stand with, who keeps popping up wherever Maggie is? What about the baker who could work anywhere in the world, but chooses to work in the tiny town abutting the National Park and has suddenly started volunteering with the rape crisis center even though it’s meant to serve Native American women and he’s a white man? Or how about Maggie’s new boss, or the man she felt uneasy about on a hiking trail one day?
The beauty and the horror of Montgomery’s storytelling is that we the audience, despite our near omnipotence when it comes to the minds of both Maggie and her stalker, don’t know. The tension rachets up and the rapist draws closer and closer to this brave, damaged woman, we’re still uncertain about which of these men it is until Maggie herself finds out.
Montgomery’s stated intent, lined out in her Author’s Note, was to draw attention to the truly heartbreaking statistics surrounding rape in the United States, and the prevalence of violence against Native American women. In her intent, in this novel, she is effective.
At one point in the story Lily, Maggie’s friend and the founder of the aforementioned rape crisis center, speaks about anger. After a particularly frustrating day, Lily says:
“You know, Mags, anger is beneficial, if it’s productive. I’ve found being mad doesn’t hurt quite so much if we channel our rage for good. Let’s stay angry, just a little, if it keeps us coming back here. But just a little. Too much anger is counterproductive.”
This is a novel about good rage, about channeling the injustices of the world around us and fighting to do some good with both words and deeds. Lucky for readers, it was penned by a maestra like Anne Montgomery, so that we got a tense, powerful novel in the bargain too.
At the end of her Author’s Note, Montgomery includes web addresses for RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, for readers who would like to get involved in addressing this issue. To her plea, I would also add endthebacklog.org, an organization started by actress and activist Mariska Hargtay, of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit fame, to address the overwhelming rape kit backlog that is pervasive across all fifty states.
Maggie, a National Park Ranger, is back at the Castle – an ancient Native American pueblo carved into the face of a limestone cliff in Arizona. Maggie, who suffers from depression, has been through several traumas: the gang rape she suffered while in the Coast Guard, the sudden death of her ten-year-old son, and a suicide attempt. As part of her therapy, Maggie volunteers at the local rape crisis clinic.
Maggie has several men in her life. The baker, newcomer Jim Casey, always greets her with a warm smile and fills pink boxes with sweet delicacies. Brett Collins, a scuba diver, is doing scientific studies in Montezuma Well, a dangerous cylindrical depression that houses a deep spring filled with strange creatures found nowhere else on Earth. Then there’s Dave, with whom she’s had a one-night stand, and her new boss, Glen.
One of these men is a serial rapist, and Maggie is his next target.
Thanks, Jennie. A thoughtful and compelling review for an important novel. Thanks for the recommendation.
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