Sunday, May 3, 2009
Our Guys, by Bernard Lufkowitz, is about the 1989 rape of a mentally disabled teenage woman by several popular athletes and the subsequent trial of these athletes. Lufkowitz frames the story in terms of privilege: how Glen Ridge was constructed for the benefit of these young men, from athletics to sexuality. As in many towns, sports (particularly football) was an obsession regardless of the team's success. Student athletes received disproportionate glory and adulation from everyone around them: teachers, parents, peers, and girls - including "Leslie Faber", who idolized her rapists even after they debased and humiliated her, as Lufkowitz describes in grueling and possibly triggering language. Lufkowitz is adept at showing how the defendents were raised to believe that they could get away with anything and be praised, and describing an atmosphere in which they believed that they were entitled to enact trauma on a young woman psychologically unable to defend herself.
The mostly linear structure of this book makes for a thrilling read despite its length, especially in the third of the book on the courtroom drama. Lufkowitz's approach to the story is comprehensive, and both the characters and analysis are well-developed. However, in Lufkowitz's laser focus on the privilege of these young men, he sometimes loses sight of the issues of ableism at hand - and indeed, his near-constant use of the outdated term "retarded" to describe the victim reinforces his occasional blindness. Though the book decries their position in society, it still focuses on the defendents to the occasional exclusion of the less identifiable Leslie.
But Our Guys is an important, stellar and staggeringly well-researched book that is worth reading for anyone interested in a brutal critique of a twisted microcosm of the American dream: a place where young rich able men feel free to do whatever they please, unbound by human decency, shame, or consideration for others.
[New York Times]
Another staple of this blog will be reviews of the books I read. I read fairly voraciously, so I'm hoping to review one book a week at minimum.