Prized Possessions

What makes Avery Corman’s fiction sell is his knack for dramatiz-ing the latest strain in middle-class anxiety: You’ve worried about the problem at 3:00 a.m., now read the novel. In Prized Possessions, the problem is campus date rape.

During her first weekend away at Layton College, Elizabeth Mason is invited to a keg party by Jimmy Andrews, a senior with pointless good looks and predatory instincts. After several beers and some close dancing, they end up alone in a basement room. When Jimmy gets amorous (”You’re going to love it. Don’t fight it” — that’s Jimmy being amorous), Elizabeth asks to leave; when he gets rough, she screams. But the walls are soundproof, and he rapes her.

Blaming herself for being ”a stupid, naive, ignorant fool,” Elizabeth lapses into zombie life. She avoids other students, eats alone, moves in a fog from lecture to lecture, abandons her voice lessons, and refuses to tell anybody what happened.

In his portrayal of Elizabeth’s self-loathing and psychic disintegration, Corman is thoroughly — even scarily — convincing. But then, quite suddenly, his grip on the material slips. Just at midpoint, when Elizabeth decides to bring legal charges against Jimmy Andrews, the prose turns careless, dropping detail and texture, and the novel begins to read like a treatment for yet another hapless movie-of-the-week. (In fact, Warner Bros. has optioned the story.)

Scenes are replaced by curt summarizations, drama becomes melodrama, and full-bodied characters give way to stereotypes: the Wise Old New York Psychiatrist, the Soulless Country Club Dad, the Hard-Nosed Detective, the Lily-Livered College President. Even Elizabeth loses her earlier affecting individuality, metamorphosing into the plucky die-cut Heroine, leading anti- rape marches, spouting slogans, and standing up to spineless academics, sneering jocks, and dubious grand jurors. Everyone is educated, Jimmy is chastened (though not jailed), and Elizabeth takes out her music and starts to sing again. The End. It’s supposed to be inspiring, but it’s lame and lazy, and rankly deceitful.

Prized Possessions
  • Book