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THE RED WORD de Sarah Henstra

A smart, dark, take-no-prisoners look at both rape culture and the extremes to which ideology can go

by Sarah Henstra
Black Cat
, March 2018

Set in the mid-’90s on a college campus during the era of identity politics and the birth of third-wave feminism, the novel centers on two houses—a popular fraternity and a group of radical feminists—that go to war. With strains of The Marriage Plot, and reminiscent of the work of Alison Lurie and Tom Wolfe, The Red Word establishes Henstra as a literary novelist to watch.
THE RED WORD is a campus novel like no other. When Karen arrives at university, she quickly enters the swim of social life, partying with new friends—particularly at a certain fraternity house. When she wakes up one morning on the lawn of Raghurst, a house of radical feminists, she gets a crash course in the state of feminist activism on campus. She learns the fraternity is notorious, with several names featured on a list of date rapists compiled anonymously by female students. Despite continuing to party there and dating one of the brothers, she is equally seduced by the intellectual stimulation and indomitable spirit of the Raghurst women, who surprise her by wanting her as a housemate and recruiting her into the upper-level class of a charismatic feminist mythology scholar they all adore. As Karen’s social and intellectual lives grow ever more conflicted, ringleader housemate Dyann believes she has hit on the perfect way to expose and bring down the fraternity as a symbol of rape culture, and the war between the houses will leave much greater collateral damage in its wake.
Capturing beautifully the feverish binarism of campus politics, and the headlong rush of youth towards new friends and lovers, life-altering new ideas, and new ideologies, The Red Word arrives on the wings of furies.

Sarah Henstra is a professor of English at Ryerson University. She is the author of the young adult novel Mad Miss Mimic, which was published by Penguin Canada. The Red Word is her first work of adult fiction.