Wrecked is a story that is timely, unfortunately, and one that will stick with you long after you’re done. It’s the story of a campus rape, from two POVs you wouldn’t expect: the students the victim and the rapist rely on as their “advisors” during the university investigation.
This was what prompted me to ask Maria Padian for an interview about her choices regarding Hayley and Richard, the two students involved in the investigation. Their voices aren’t the conventional choice for a story like this, but the beauty of Padian’s writing is that the victim’s story is still the centre of the narrative.
So, first, here’s my review of the excellent Wrecked, and what follows is Maria Padian on her unusual literary choices.
Very clearly, the topic of campus assaults have been in the news in the US and here in Australia recently. But, Wrecked isn’t a straightforward novel in a way: your focus is on two outside characters to the victim and the perpetrator – what prompted you to approach this topic with Hayley and Richard as the focus?
I have always been fascinated by how a story changes depending on the narrator, and how “truth” varies with point-of-view. When I sat down to write Wrecked, I wanted to take that idea one step further and write a story in which point-of-view isn’t simply a device: it’s a theme. And it’s a theme which seems particularly relevant when we talk about sexual assault, because more often than not we are dealing with two … or more … very different versions of the same story.
I want readers to experience Wrecked the way we experience all reports of sexual assault: from the other side of a closed door. I want them to experience the discomfort of thinking they know what happened, then seeing from another point of view and having their assumptions challenged. Repeatedly. If I had written from the victim’s or perpetrator’s POV this would have been a more straightforward story, more about those character’s emotions in the wake of a crime. By writing from a bystander’s limited view, it becomes a story about discerning truth. And begs the larger question: to what extent can we ever, really, get to the “truth” of a story.
Hayley wants to help Jenny in the novel, but it’s an overwhelming responsibility and she begins to resent it a little, I thought. I also thought that was a realistic take on the topic: what inspired your vision of Hayley?
I wanted to create a realistic picture of a college community, and here’s the fact: college people desperately need real friends and meaningful human interactions, but it’s hard to be a good friend, especially when you have the pressure of academics, activities, sports, dealing with social stuff, etc. I wanted Hayley to be authentic, so she’s well-intentioned-but-flawed. Some readers have been super upset that she seems ambivalent in her support for Jenny, but I think she’s doing the best she can. And I think it heightens the tension surrounding Jenny’s situation when we realize no one is going to come to her rescue: she has to be strong for herself. Frankly, I’m pretty proud of Jenny by the end of the book!
In the same vein Richard is a good guy, but one that doesn’t understand what rape culture is or what things can mean. I thought he represented a healthy number of guys out there – what was the most important thing about his character you knew you had to get right?
Because he says the wrong thing and is “unevolved” it was really important that we see, very clearly, that he likes women. He likes being in a relationship, he likes strong women, and he’s very fond of his little sister. We get annoyed with him, but we forgive him because he has an honest respect for women (he even grudgingly admits he respects Carrie) and is willing to learn.
What has the response been to the book?
I’ve been very pleased with the traditional reviews, which keep using the words “important,” “timely,” and “necessary” to describe the book. My young adult readers, however, have surprised me.
Teen readers lead with their hearts, so you can always expect strong, personal responses to your work. Still, I wasn’t prepared for their gut-wrenching, emotional reactions. Many readers are getting so caught up in the story they respond with anger or deep sadness to the characters, as if these are actual people and this really happened. As an author, it’s a thrill to realize you’ve connected with your audience. However, the book has touched a nerve, and I need to be mindful of that. I recently did a reading where several college students were in tears. I very intentionally don’t read graphic or violent passages, but I need to adjust my introductory remarks to better create a safe space for audiences.
Are attitudes changing towards assaults like this?
I think they are. I think we have a long way to go, but the fact that words like “affirmative consent” and “bystander intervention” are part of the common parlance on campuses these days is signs of improvement.
But here’s the thing: this problem is not going to be solved from the top down. Better Title IX compliance and “programming” during freshmen orientation isn’t going to solve this. It’s got to come from the bottom up, which means young people … male and female … have got to engage in some real conversation about sex, expectations, consent, the influence of hookup culture … I could go on and on. And when I say “young people,” I mean sexually active teens. So that means those conversations need to start happening long before students arrive on campus.
What do you think of Maria Padian and Wrecked? I know there are other good books out there like Wrecked that deal with consent — please share your book recs?