It Happens All the Time
In It Happens All the Time, author Amy Hatvany takes a closer look at a story we’ve all heard time and time again. Date/acquaintance rape is an issue that receives relatively little attention in fiction, and Ms. Hatvany has done a stellar job of drawing our attention to this very serious problem.
Amber and Tyler have been best friends since childhood, and their relationship has always been strictly platonic. At least, it has on Amber’s part. But now that Amber has come home the summer after her college graduation with another man’s engagement ring on her finger, Tyler is forced to really examine his feelings for her. He’s been in love with her for years now, but she doesn’t return those feelings – or does she?
One night, Amber and Tyler attend a party together, and both of them end up drinking way too much. They flirt. They dance. They even kiss – and then it all goes horribly wrong. Tyler rapes Amber, setting in motion a series of horrific events that will leave their two families forever scarred.
The story is told in alternating points of view, a style that works particularly here. Ms. Hatvany made a wise choice when she chose to allow her readers to see things from Tyler’s PoV as well as from Amber’s. At first, I wondered if she would use Tyler’s chapters to make excuses for rapists, but she doesn’t do that at all, and instead, she creates a scenario that is completely credible. Both characters are deeply flawed, but, at the end of it all, Ms. Hatvany stresses the importance of consent, while showing us just how quickly things can go completely sideways.
As a teenager, Amber struggled with anorexia, and, even now, she is prone to bouts of under-eating when she’s really stressed. She has been dating Daniel for close to a year, and the two of them have been engaged for a few months. They have grand plans to move to Seattle in the fall, where Daniel will start medical school while Amber continues on her career path as a personal trainer. Most of the time, Amber thinks her life is pretty close to perfect, but every now and then, a glimmer of doubt slips in. Maybe she’s getting married too quickly. Maybe Daniel isn’t the right one for her after all. She uses the summer after she graduates from college to gain a little distance in hopes of getting everything clear in her mind before she and Daniel go off to Seattle. Unfortunately, her life is complicated further by the assault, and Amber is forced to come to terms with far more than she envisioned.
Tyler has been trying to live up to his father’s expectations for as long as he can remember. His dad is a womanizer who drinks entirely too much, but Tyler can’t help but want his respect. His parents divorced when he was a teenager, which creates an enormous amount of inner conflict. His father is a firefighter, so, after high school, Tyler becomes a paramedic, which means that he can save lives without having to work closely with his father. He battles a huge amount of anxiety that he attempts to control with ruthless exercise and meaningless sex, but, as time goes by, things spiral more and more out of control.
I admire the author’s ability to create complicated characters that I can love and hate at the very same moment. While I in no way condone Tyler’s actions, I was able to understand how things happened the way they did, and feel varying amounts of empathy for both him and Amber. I wanted each of them to do the right thing, even when it would be unspeakably hard for them to do so. This is a very powerful story that definitely needed to be told, and I’m so glad Amy Hatvany was the one to tell it.
There is one element of the novel that seemed a little over the top, which, without giving too much away, is to do with the way Amber goes about making Tyler pay for raping her. On the one hand, I can completely understand the appeal of reacting in such a way, but I was also dismayed by the vigilante justice feel this gave to the story. I’m sure there have been real-life people who really have reacted in the way Amber did, but I couldn’t help hoping for something a little less dramatic.
Rape is a difficult topic, and Ms. Hatvany is very sensitive to that. We obviously know Tyler rapes Amber, but the rape scene itself isn’t hugely detailed. I found it hard to read, just because such things should be difficult, but it’s handled with the sensitivity the topic deserves.
It Happens All the Time is a riveting and timely novel I urge everyone to try. It’s not perfect and it’s not easy, but it’s well worth the read.