It is rare to find a story so relevant that it feels like it takes place on your college campus. It is rarer to find a story so relevant that makes you realize it does.
One such story is found in Wrecked, the latest novel by Maria Padian ’83. Padian, who lives in Brunswick, Maine, is also the author of Out of Nowhere (2013), Jersey Tomatoes are the Best (2011) and Brett McCarthy: Work in Progress (2008).
The story, which chronicles sexual assault on college campuses, shifts between the perspectives of Haley and Richard, two college students who see their worlds change after a fateful night of partying.
One night, Haley’s roommate, Jenny, returns from a party as a different girl, shaken and wounded. Richard’s friend, Jordan, returns from the same party telling a story about a drunken hookup with a freshman. When Jenny accuses Jordan of rape, the worlds of these four people collide and change forever.
It is a story often told in young adult literature. Wrecked, however, is different. Its story is not told by the victim but by two outsiders without all the details. Their perspectives mirror our own as readers, as we are never quite sure what really happened. Haley and Richard come together as they struggle to sort out truth from lie and memory from imagination. They are confronted with the rape culture and victim-blaming that too often affect the lives of women and men who face the realities of sexual assault.
Because the story isn’t told from the victim or the accused, the task of weeding through the many details to find the truth becomes even more complex. It underscores for the readers the toll sexual assault exacts on peoples’ lives, highlights the unhealthy relationship some college students have with the words ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ and demonstrates how easy it is for doubt to creep in.
The story takes place at MacCallum College, a fictitious but eerily familiar small private school. The characters party, concern themselves with sports and grades, engage in casual sex and even occasionally recline in an Adirondack chair on the green.
Padian said that “[t]he setting is very much influenced by living in a small college town,” but she maintained that it was not actually based on Middlebury or Bowdoin College.
MacCallum College is probably based on all small private schools. It’s easy to see the similarities between its setting and characters and any liberal arts college or university in America. The very fact that the setting can take on so many real locations is why the story feels so possible and so visceral. If something like this could happen at MacCallum, it could happen at Middlebury. And it certainly does.
Padian’s characters come beautifully to life in this enthralling and powerful novel. They allow us to step into their shoes and wonder how we would act, what side we would choose and if right and wrong can be defined as sharply as the world wants them to be.