Inexcusable (Review)

Beautiful does not mean wishy-washy.

Today, I’m posting a rant. I don’t usually rant, but this is a story rant. And I’m fired up enough that I can’t concentrate on anything else until I get this out of my system.

On the adbooks list, we’re discussing Chris Lynch’s novel Inexcusable. It’s a literary novel, with one feature that literary novels are allowed to have: You can’t figure out what it means.

Now, the adbooks group is great. It’s full of smart, literate people. And the semimonthly discussion books are usually worth reading. I read A Certain Slant of Light because of adbooks, and I’ve rarely been more excited about a great novel.

When we started discussing Inexcusable, one poster said she loved the words. She said each one seemed to have been chosen for perfect effect. (I thought the book rambled on.) A couple more people said the story hit close to home because they had known someone like the main character. One or two people openly admitted they didn’t get it, in one aspect or another.

In all the discussion, the repeated meme is that this book is great because there are multiple interpretations. No, not interpretations of what the story means to me as an individual, but multiple stories, depending on what you think is happening in the story.

This book is about rape and… something else. It’s about lying. It’s about self-accountability. It’s about owning up to your own choices. It’s about choosing your actions. It’s about drugs. It’s about peer pressure. It’s about alcoholism. It’s about love and loneliness. Pick one or more of those.

In the story, Keir rapes Gigi. This is not a spoiler, because we find this out at the beginning, also at the end. I think someone objected to my use of the word “melodramatic” to describe opening a novel about a rape with:

The way it looks is not the way it is.

Gigi Boudakian is screaming at me so fearsomely, I think I could just about cry…

You could ask pretty much anybody and they will tell you. Rock solid, Keir. Kind of guy you want behind you. Keir Sarafian, straight shooter. Loyal, polite. Funny. Good manners. He was brought up right, that boy was, is what you would hear. All the things you would want to hear said about you are the things I have always heard said about me. I am a good guy.

Good guys don’t do bad things. Good guys understand that no means no, and so I could not have done this because I understand, and I love Gigi Boudakian.

By the way, that’s Keir saying that, not Chris Lynch. Readers of this blog may notice that Keir is telling us what he wants us to believe, rather than showing us. Rather than selling us his point of view, he shouts it at us. This decreases the realism of a story, but in this case, we want that decrease in realism, because we should not believe everything Keir tells us.

This character, Keir, most people agree that he’s untrustworthy. Some get it earlier in the novel, some later. Occasionally, someone will go through the whole book without being able to tell that he’s lying to himself and to us, and that’s okay. I would like to be friends with those someones.

Keir is untrustworthy, and we agree on that point, but the agreement ends there. Ask three different people what motivates Keir, and get four different answers. In particular, why did Keir rape Gigi Boudakian? What was his motivation? Considering that this is the main character and the main plot point, I’d think there would be more clarity on the subject. Sure most readers have a theory, but the fact that there are so many theories convinces me that each reader is reading his own preconceptions into the story, rather than letting the story tell him something about human nature and himself. This, to some commentators, makes the book “significant” and “well-crafted.”

And in the same spirit, I’d like to share some theories of my own, which no one else has mentioned:

Whatever your favorite answer, it says more about you than it does about Keir, because you’re reading your own prejudices into the story. I know you are, because you have to do that in order to espouse any theory. This doesn’t make the story beautiful, just wishy-washy. Discussions about such stories may be stimulating, but we can discuss hypothetical situations without a wishy-washy story to inspire them. And we can be honest and admit that these discussions are indeed about us and not pretend they’re about something else.

When I read a story, I want to be transported to another place. I want to get to know people I cannot meet in real life. I want to feel as though they’re my friends. I want to experience their challenges, their successes, their failures, experiences I cannot actually live. And I want these people to challenge me to re-examine myself in the light of their story. You can have literary beauty and accomplish these things at the same time. A Certain Slant of Light did this.

True to its form, my own reaction to Inexcusable tells more about me than it does about the story.

Finally, Inexcusable was a National Book Award Finalist. In true literary fashion, I’m going to ponder, Does that say more about the book or about the award?

Inexcusable by Chris Lynch
Hardcover: 176 pages
Publisher: Atheneum (October 25, 2005)
ISBN: 0689847890

-TimK

About J. Timothy King
J. Timothy King

I'm the eldest of three siblings, a stay-at-home father of two daughters, the husband of a wonderful wife, and an indie author of life-expanding character fiction. When not writing, I read, watch old TV and movies, play bass guitar, and tend to my family in our Boston-area apartment.

Catch me on:  my web site Facebook Twitter 

Comments

Im in middle school and my english teacher has us reading this book.It is inappropiate.We shouldn’t be reading it.Should we?

J. Timothy King

Hi, Ashlon. I think you’d want to ask your parents whether they think it’s appropriate. I wouldn’t want my middle-school-aged daughter to be reading it and discussing it, at least not without me in the equation. It’s a heavy subject.

-TimK

Im Thai collage student and my english teacher has us reading this book too Ashlon! I found it hard to understand well maybe its because we have to read it in english

i read this book for a report i had to do and i think the book was confusing. i mean i get what he’s trying to say, but i honestly can’t understand wiether gigi was raped or not cuase it said she was kissing him to….or maybe he thought that, but the book should have ben clearer….

we are reading this book too i think its really inappropriate book taht we shouldnt be reading litle too adultish 🙁

…What? It’s a story about a rapist. It’s how a rapist would justify his/her own actions. And it can be inferred from the signs : violent hazing, crippling an enemy player, etc. It’s a story about a supposedly good guy.. but it turned out that he’s a lying rapist. It’s about rape.

ummm wow I can’t believe a dude who mentions his daughter can’t understand that this book is talking about how somebody might try to justify a rape. even Keir’s rose colored description of the event has Gigi making sad unhappy noises while he forces his mouth on her mouth and his hands and body on hers so she cannot move or breathe other than panicked sad moans. the way he forcibly blocks Gigi from leaving the room and nearly rapes her again all while rationalizing his actions as: getting her to understand what he meant and trying to make her listen, showing how much he loves her etc. all while blocking the door and grabbing her and kissing her and getting on top of her while she cried and told him she felt violated and asked him to let her leave. he even tried to deny he wasn’t letting her leave while physically chasing her around the room and blocking her exits. (just like he denies he raped her even while getting a thrill out of forcibly manhandling her as she tries to escape the room). just because he thinks he is a good guy you throw out the possibility that the victim is not a victim because the guy doesn’t think he is a predator? this book shows how rape isn’t a question of whether somebody thinks of themselves as a monster or is intending to hurt somebody but rather that the rapist’s inability to respect the boundaries and personhood and desires of somebody else is what enables them to commit the crime. I thought this book could be helpful for young men, but if grown ass adults can’t come away with the very simple conclusion that the way Keir acted was in fact INEXCUSABLE then maybe it’s doing more harm than good. it scares me when a purposefully unreliable narrator in a book called inexcusable is given more credit than the victim.

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