Victoria Namkung’s novel, These Violent Delights, concerns a scandal involving a private school for girls. The novel asks questions about the consequences of our actions. If bad things happen, someone pays. But is it always in the way we expect? Can justice ever be achieved even if society and the Law intervene?
The novel centres on a handful of women in an sexual abuse case involving the very popular Dr Copeland, the chair of the English Department at Windermere, a private school for girls in Southern California. At tuition of $38,000 a year, parents expect their children to have an excellent education in a safe environment, but everything goes to hell when newspaper intern, 22-year-old USC Journalism student, Caryn, confides in veteran reporter Jane that years earlier, Copeland made inappropriate comments to her followed by emails, and sexual overtures. Even though Caryn contacted the school administration about the situation, it was basically just covered up.
Caryn, feeling strongly that her story should be told, writes an article about the problems at Windermere but doesn’t name the teacher. Soon several other young women approach Jane and Caryn with their stories. Copeland abused his position and his access to young, vulnerable girls for years.
In these days of social media and “online reaction,” all hell breaks loose. Caryn is vilified by some members of the public and lauded for her bravery by others. As more victims speak out and the story widens, Windermere administration is forced to publicly respond via a ‘Special Investigative Committee.’
There were times when I wasn’t sure where the story was taking me, but overall, the plot takes a predictable course. While many aspects of the story are black and white, interesting gray sections, the politics of the ‘Special Committee’ and “organizational loyalty,” (a term that I’d never heard before) remain unexplored. Institutionalized/organizational wrong doing, which must be the foundation problem here, still comes down to a few decisions made by one individual. Possible thought processes are mentioned rather than explored when it comes down to the choices made by this individual.
Although the story unfolds via the voices of several female characters, Dr Copeland remains a murky figure. These Violent Delights Have Violent Ends a phrase from Romeo and Juliet lingers over the novel with a sense of impending dread. These young women are permanently damaged–some much more than others. Dealing with the acknowledgment and shame causes a great deal of distress and pain, and ultimately, sadly, there seems to be very little ‘won.’