“The Red Word is the smartest, most provocative novel I’ve read in a long time. Sarah Henstra dives headlong into some murky, turbulent waters—gender politics, campus sexual assault, complicity, moral responsibility—and emerges with a book that’s as shocking as it is essential.”
—Tom Perrotta, author of Little Children and Nine Inches
“The Red Word is set in the 1990s but speaks directly to the present feminist moment. Sarah Henstra takes us into two worlds: that of Women’s Studies classes and lesbian pagan rituals, and of frat boys and S&M theme parties. As I watched Karen struggle with politics, power, and her own culpability in the fallout of it all, I could not put this book down.”
—Darcey Steinke, author of Suicide Blonde and Sister Golden Hair
“The Red Word is a profoundly contemporary take on one of our oldest and most corrosive stories. In note-perfect prose, Sarah Henstra sings of war at its most personal, the myth of conquest brought home to bleed on the hearth. A fierce and devastatingly timely debut.”
—Alissa York, author of Effigy and The Naturalist
A smart, dark, and take-no-prisoners look at rape culture and the extremes to which ideology can go, The Red Word is a campus novel like no other.
As her sophomore year begins, Karen enters into the back-to-school revelry—particularly at a fraternity called GBC. 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. GBC is notorious, she learns, nicknamed “Gang Bang Central” and a prominent contributor to a list of date rapists compiled by female students. Despite continuing to party there and dating one of the brothers, Karen 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 finds herself caught between two increasingly polarized camps, ringleader housemate Dyann believes she has hit on the perfect way to expose and bring down the fraternity as a symbol of rape culture—but the war between the houses will exact a terrible price.
The Red Word captures beautifully the feverish binarism of campus politics and the headlong rush of youth toward new friends, lovers, and life-altering ideas. With strains of Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot, Alison Lurie’s Truth and Consequences, and Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons, Sarah Henstra’s debut adult novel arrives on the wings of furies.
“Witty and original, Sarah Henstra is a bold new voice in Canadian fiction.”
—Helen Humphreys, author of The Reinvention of Love and The Evening Chorus
ECW Press, Canada, Spring 2018
Grove/Atlantic, United States, Spring 2018