–there are spoilers ahead for the Grant County series–

I’ve recently just slogged–and, sadly, it was a slog–my way through Karin Slaughter’s Grant County series. I love the Will Trent series although I skimmed much of the torture porn. However, the Grant County series not only has one of the least likable female characters of all time–I LOATHE Lena Adams–it also subjects its women to horror after horror. Sara, the lead, is brutally raped, which makes her infertile, and her husband cheats on her. Her sister Tessa is randomly and horrifically attacked while pregnant and loses the baby and her fiancé. Lena is horribly raped and subjected to all sorts of violence and her beloved sister Sybil is sickeningly raped and murdered for no good reason. This is just the violence that happens to the main characters. The indignities, cruelties, and violent acts inflicted on all the other women in the show are endless–really, the only two female characters who aren’t tortured are Cathy, Sara and Tessa’s mom, and Nan, dead Sibyl’s lesbian lover.

Not to mention that, at the end of the series, Sara’s one true love, Jeffrey, with whom she’s worked so hard to build a life with and with whom she is just been approved to adopt a child, is blown to bits before her eyes and dies professing his–ugh–undying love for her.

When I finally finished the books and sat seething at Jeffrey’s death, I realized that, again and again, Slaughter uses fertility to both judge and punish her female characters.

Sara’s infertility haunts her–it’s not until almost a decade after her rape she considers adoption and she never thinks about harvesting her eggs or doing any treatments even though her infertility has nothing to do with the viability of her eggs. Her inability to have children is a weapon Slaughter uses to make Sara’s very stressful life even harder.

Lena is violently raped and then spends years in an abusive relationship with a white supremacist who rapes her and impregnates her. Lena has an abortion and then spends endless hours hating herself for having murdered her baby. At the clinic, Lena meets another woman who is, unbeknownst to her abusive husband, terminating her pregnancy as well. That women is later violently murdered.

Tessa gets pregnant and that baby is murdered in her belly. Several victims in the books are so mutilated by the psychopaths who attack them that many of them end up unable to have kids.

It’s just…. unjustifiably cruel.

In romance, there are often babies at the end. Having a child, in the context of marriage, has historically been the goal. And too often, that scenario feels forced. Not everyone needs to have a kid just as not everyone needs to marry.

However, using women’s desire to have children as a weapon against them is far worse to me. The Grant County series treats women with as much cruelty as any author I’ve read. Is it unfair of me to hope that a woman writing women would do so with more compassion than I think Slaughter does in these books? And maybe I’m over the top about babies–it’s possible I’ve overreacted to the way Slaughter uses fertility as a cudgel.

What do you think? Have you read these books? Do you think it’s OK to use fertility or the lack thereof as a punishment in fiction?

Dabney Grinnan
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Impenitent social media enthusiast. Relational trend spotter. Enjoys both carpe diem and the fish of the day.