Book Review: Inexcusable

This book and this post both discuss sexual assault, including from the perspective of the perpetrator.

As far as I’m concerned, this book — Chris Lynch’s Inexcusable — was one big potential trigger. I spent 176 pages unsure of whether I would dissociate, so I picked my reading times and places carefully. It was painful, but it was worth it to me.

The premise (no spoilers beyond the book jacket): Keir considers himself a good guy. Therefore, he could not have done what Gigi is claiming.

Why I’m Writing (probably contains spoilers): I’m of two minds on this book. On the one hand, I do believe Keir believes he’s a good guy — at least on the surface. But there are a fair amount of people who reinforce this good guy persona, including his dad, the people who offer him college scholarships, and pretty much everyone on the football team — the evidence of Keir’s actual conduct notwithsanding. So, Keir believes himself a good guy. Hell, as a reader — even one who is conditioned to be skeptical of Nice Guys — I read so many times from so many characters that I started to internalize it. Not enough so I fully believed him, but enough that I didn’t fully disbelieve.

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BIG ASS SPOILER RIGHT HERE: Keir rapes his friend in this belief — that he is a good guy and good guys don’t do things like this — deluding himself that he loves her at the time.

And I don’t know what to do with this.

On one hand, it’s crucial to counter the “rapist as monster” misconception that a lot of people have. Not that sexual assault isn’t a terrible act — it is — but sometimes people then assume that rapists are all-around noticeably terrible people. They have this idea of rapist as Other, someone who is so far out of the norm that they’ll surely be recognized for what they are. This isn’t true. While stats on this are admittedly varied and flawed, somewhere in the area of 6% of men admit to attempted or completed sexual assault. Six percent translates into roughly one out of every seventeen men.

I know a lot more than seventeen men. Even accounting for the men in my life who I know to have committed sexual assault (namely, because they were committing it against me), statistically, there are likely other rapists among the remaining people I know.

It’s a really big deal that people bump up against the idea that they might know a rapist. It’s a really big deal because when I confided to friends immediately after my rape, they — to a person — said something that amounted to, “[Name of rapist], really? Are you sure? He’s such a nice guy; he wouldn’t do something like that.” In other words, based on someone’s reputation as a good guy, they dismissed and negated my understanding of an unequivocal and fairly violent attack. It’s a really big deal because my story is not unusual.

In addressing that, Keir is compelling, and Inexcusable is successful.

Where I’m having trouble is the premise — the delusion — that Keir truly didn’t understand what he was doing at the time that he did it. (EVEN MORE SPOILERS): He initiates sexual contact at a time when the other person is incapable of giving consent. He uses a sufficient amount of force, from my understanding of the character’s own narration, that the victim’s verbal and physical protests could be dominated. Later, when he realized what he’d done, he was repulsed by his own actions.

Maybe it’s my own personal bias, but I call bullshit. I do not believe that anyone could be so self-aggrandized and predatory in the night and have a genuine epiphany and change of heart the next morning. Not even in fiction.

But then I think: Maybe I’m not supposed to believe. I can’t parse author’s intent here. On one hand, it may be that he was trying to use Keir’s remorse as a way to create a sympathetic character. (I write plays, and I grow to love my characters, and sometimes it is hard not to throw one a sympathy lifeline sometimes, even if that detracts from the power of the story.) On the other, it may be that Lynch was simply carrying Keir’s self-delusion through to its natural conclusion — That he’s deluding himself into believing he’s remorseful, without really ever addressing all the shit that got him there.

Heartbreaking though it will be, I suspect this is one novel that calls for rereading.

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I'm here. I like stuff. Some other stuff, I like less.

Posted in books, non-asana
3 comments on “Book Review: Inexcusable
  1. dyingisanart says:

    I know this sort of late but I just read Inexcusable and it left me really uneasy. I felt like the implication that Keir didn’t realise he was raping Gigi was just more rape apology. I realise that most rape is committed by someone you know BUT it did seem like Keir’s “love” of Gigi was proffered as an excuse by Lynch (rather than Keir) as to why he did it. Keir does all these terrible things throughout the book and yet he never admits to enjoying being the asshole he is, only that he didn’t INTEND to be an asshole. So it’s from his perspective, that’s how he justifies it but why then does everyone else think he’s so awesome in the face of all the evidence to the contrary. That was Lynch’s choice. Maybe I’m not articulating myself well but in spite of the first person narration I still feel Lynch could have provided some balance, some sign that other people realise that Keir is consistently a jerk and that he clearly DOES realise what he’s doing.

    • Tori says:

      [Other readers: Major spoiler in this comment.]

      I agree. I do feel like very last paragraphs — Keir’s lines, “I can feel horror lines grooving my face,” and “and wait for whoever is going to come for me” — are supposed to (finally and only after the fact) signal recognition of his actions as rape and acceptance that he deserves some kind of consequence for raping Gigi.

      And I feel like, as a realistic portrayal of sexual assault, Lynch fails so completely in this that I’m almost looking for clues that I’m caught up in character narration and am missing the author’s intent.

      Otherwise, you’re right, it means that a highly acclaimed YA author has written a novel of rape apology aimed at young people. And the survivor in me can’t really think about that.

      • dyingisanart says:

        Thank goodness! I am so relieved that someone else is seeing what I see. I read the book because of it’s overwhelmingly positive reviews and was so disappointed by it. It seemed like an excuse for rapists; they don’t know they’re raping people, they don’t have good boundaries, they’re just not used to being told no etc. It’s sad to think that this is the shining example of YA literature that’s being handed out to schools. It’s one thing if it’s being used as a teachable tool on forms of rape culture/rape apology in pop culture/literature but from the reviews I’ve read I don’t think that’s the message they’re taking from it.

        Lynch implies in Keir’s own description of the rape that he genuinely doesn’t realise that Gigi is protesting, which I found sickening. It’s one thing to have him deny the rape but another for him to describe it as sex, without any internal sense that he knows what he’s doing. And the line you mentioned almost dissociates Keir from the act, as if he wasn’t really “present” and so only realised what he was doing when he snapped back into himself.

        Sorry for the essay, just glad to know I’m not the only one who read the book this way.

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