Sadie Hartmann (aka Mother Horror) is leading a CASTAWAYS read-along right now on social media, which I think is awesome. But if I’m being truthful, my first thought was a flashback to my friend Amanda Schuckman once saying ‘That’s Brian’s Island Full of Rape Monsters novel.” My second thought was “Geez, I hope they include the Author’s Note at the end of the book in their read-along.” And my third thought was that not all editions of CASTAWAYS have that Author’s Note. Thus, I’m writing this with my first cup of coffee this morning.
Rape is a terrible thing. So is terrorizing a child, or killing another person, or torturing a human being, or psychology abusing someone. These are horrible acts, but the genre must sometimes rely on using them. The key is how the artist uses them. I’ve never been a fan of gratuitous rape in prose or movies. When handled poorly, it smacks of of the author or filmmaker using a reprehensible, violent, dehumanizing act to elicit titillation — and personally, I think that’s a shitty thing to do. However, I also don’t subscribe to the “fiction should never include rape” mindset, particularly if we’re talking about horror fiction. The purpose of horror fiction is to make the reader uncomfortable, frightened, scared, etc. Understand, I’m not advocating “Hmmm, I need a scare to happen on page 214. I know! I’ll have someone get raped! That will do the trick.” But I do think that — in horror fiction — rape is as valid as murder, torture, and all the other terrible things that have been happening in horror stories since humankind first started painting them on cave walls. But in the case of all of these, *the story should call for it.* If it doesn’t serve the story, then why include it?
Looking at my own body of work, there’s no rape in, say THE COMPLEX for example, because even though the novel is just as violent as CASTAWAYS, it wouldn’t make sense for the plot. To have included rape in THE COMPLEX would have been nothing more than gratuitous. But…as uncomfortable and triggering as rape can be, I do think it makes sense for the plot of CASTAWAYS. As I wrote in the Author’s Note of that book, “The idea of a race of sub-beings using human females to propagate their species is one I’ve used before (in the novel Ghoul). I generally try not to repeat themes, but in the context of this tale, it seemed appropriate. I’m also not a big fan of using rape to convey a sense of horror in a novel. That’s a tired trope, and many times, instead of experiencing horror, the reader is left with nothing but literary misogyny. I debated it for a while. But to have not used rape here would have been a cheat. It would have lessened the realism of the book. Let’s be honest—the tribe is slowly dying off and more and more young are being born with serious birth defects. Given those constraints, their actions were in line with the plot.”
Anyway, I just felt moved to write that this morning, because I know a lot of the folks reading along with Sadie are probably new to my work, and new to that novel. Hello to them. I’ve been doing this since 1999. And CASTAWAYS was written in 2011. If you enjoy it when you’re finished, cool. And if you didn’t enjoy it, I’ve got 50-some other books out there and not all of them are ‘Brian’s Island Full of Rape Monsters’ novels.