I was looking through my printed advance proof of This Little Family by Inès Bayard for a trigger warning because if ever a book needs one, this is it. Any book about rape is going to be tough and potentially triggering, but Ms. Bayard’s description of the scene is particularly bothersome because she manages to depict one of the most traumatic events a woman can face without emotion. It is this lack of anything but the facts that shocks the most.
The rest of the novel is not much easier to read. Blunt, crass, and crude, it is almost as if Ms. Bayard delights in Marie’s base behavior. Except, I don’t think it is a delight that Ms. Bayard takes in presenting such an awful fall from grace. Rather, it is a grim determination to present rape and its aftermath in as blunt and unemotional light as possible.
This Little Family is an ugly story, made even uglier by the harsh truths about being a woman that Ms. Bayard presents. Take the following passage:
“She was ashamed. Filled with a shame that grips women from the start to the very end of their lives. Never changing. Shame for bodies that are imperfect, not spotless, condemned by collective virtue. Bodies that suffer, groan, contort, bleed, change, evolve, grow fatter and thinner, penetrated their whole lives, impregnated, opened, emptied, closed up again, inflated and deflated as a result of successive ordeals, rammed full of acetaminophen and ibuprofen to force them to calm down.”
I cannot imagine there is not a woman alive who would read this passage and nod along with what Ms. Bayard is saying. We can tout loving our bodies and appreciating what women alone can do, but the fact is that society has always and continues to view women’s bodies as inferior to men’s. For which, there is an inherent shame in being a woman.
Then there is this passage:
“Not once since her rape and the announcement of her pregnancy has anyone asked her whether she wants to keep this baby. Every pregnant woman should be asked that question at least once during the first gynecological consultation. Conjugal harmony is never adequate to assure genuine happiness or a sincere desire for motherhood….No one ever really knows what’s going on in a woman’s mind. Here too, after tumbling downstairs, the first news Marie is given is about her unborn child, not herself. She’s simply a womb. The child is prioritized, almost sacred.”
The first half of this passage, about asking a woman whether she wants to be pregnant, seems like such an easy question to ask, and yet, the statement is such an eye-opener. Why do we assume that every woman who enters the OB/GYN for a pregnancy appointment wants to be pregnant? This ties into the last sentence of that passage, which every person who has ever been pregnant will understand and intimately know. The way we revere an unborn fetus over the woman who carries that fetus is beyond disturbing. And it doesn’t stop in utero. Many a mother laments the fact that they lose their identity as a person once their babies are born. Ms. Bayard fills the entire novel with such unemotional and yet profound observations about being a woman, about being pregnant, about being raped that you struggle to read it and yet want to continue because you know the next truth bomb is right around the corner.
I can’t decide if I sympathize with Marie or judge her for her behavior, again another thing I believe Ms. Bayard is purposely driving readers to decide. Unless you have been in Marie’s shoes, I feel it is difficult to find fault with her, which would mean that I sympathize with her. Then again, I can’t shake the idea that she would not fall quite as far if she confided in a loved one, which means I judge her as well. Perhaps the key is that readers can feel both. Or that the indecision means that we truly see the situation for its lack of easy answers. I can say with confidence, however, that This Little Family shows just how much the legal system in any country fails rape victims. The reason Marie heads down her path is because of a lack of options and the knowledge that no one would believe her. That is the saddest tragedy of all.