On a college campus in the mid-90s, two houses—a popular fraternity and a group of ardent young feminists—go to war.
Consent. Rape culture. The male gaze. Sex-positivity. The Red Word asks a bold question: what if women weren’t content to wait for the next assault to take action? What if they got tired of the his-word-against-hers stalemates? Set against the sex wars of the 1990s and the birth of third-wave feminism, the result is a smart, dark, take-no-prisoners look at the extremes to which ideology can go.
As college begins again, sophomore Karen Huls dives into the back-to-school revelry — particularly at Gamma Beta Chi, a favored fraternity. But when Karen wakes up one morning on the lawn of Raghurst, a house of radical feminists, she gets a crash course in the notoriety of GBC — a.k.a. “Gang Bang Central” — and the state of feminist activism on campus.
Despite continuing to party at GBC, Karen is seduced by the intellectual stimulation and indomitable spirit of the women at Raghurst, who surprise her by wanting her as a housemate and recruiting her into the upper-level class of a charismatic feminist mythology professor they all adore. As Karen finds herself caught between two increasingly polarized camps, ringleader housemate Dyann believes she has hit on the perfect way to expose and bring down the fraternity as a symbol of rape culture. In the headlong rush of youth toward new friends, lovers, and life-altering ideas, the ensuing war between houses will exact a terrible price.
Praise for The Red Word:
“An aesthetically arresting interrogation of rape culture on campus…Timely and brilliant.” –Kirkus Reviews
“The smartest, most provocative novel I’ve read in a long time. Sarah Henstra dives headlong into some murky, turbulent waters — gender politics, campus sexual assault, complicity, moral responsibility — and emerges with a book that’s as shocking as it is essential.” – Tom Perrotta, author of Little Children and Nine Inches
“Witty and original . . . a bold new voice in Canadian fiction.” – Helen Humphreys, author of The Evening Chorus
“Set in the 1990s, The Red Word interrogates the prevailing political preoccupations of that time: gender politics, third-wave feminism, and consent…A timely and nuanced dissection of rape culture ensues.”- Booklist
“The Red Word is a profoundly contemporary take on one of our oldest and most corrosive stories. In note-perfect prose, Sarah Henstra sings of war at its most personal, the myth of conquest brought home to bleed on the hearth. A fierce and devastatingly timely debut.” — Alissa York, author of Effigy and The Naturalist
“The Red Word is set in the 1990s but speaks directly to the present feminist moment. Sarah Henstra takes us into two worlds: that of Women’s Studies classes and lesbian pagan rituals, and of frat boys and S&M theme parties. As I watched Karen struggle with politics, power, and her own culpability in the fallout of I could not put this book down.” — Darcey Steinke, author of Suicide Blonde and Sister Golden Hair